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Sheriff's deputy resigns in inquiry

The lieutenant, a 19-year veteran of the department, was accused of sexual harassment, discrimination and creating a hostile work environment.

For the third time in two weeks, an investigation at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office has revealed allegations of sexual harassment against a supervisor.

The most recent investigation, which became public Friday, resulted in the resignation of a lieutenant at the Sheriff's Office boot camp. Thomas Smith, a 19-year Sheriff's Office veteran, was accused of sexual harassment, discrimination and creating a hostile work environment.

Subordinates accused Smith of making lewd comments, sending sexual comments in e-mails and improperly touching a female subordinate. He also was accused of making what appeared to be a sexual advance on one female employee at his home and of threatening employees by saying he could ruin their careers, according to investigative documents.

Employees said Smith pitted employees against each other, in one case telling a female drill instructor that a female civilian employee was homosexual and advising her to stay away from the employee because she would hit on her, documents state.

Earlier this week, detention Sgt. David Smith was reprimanded based on accusations he called female employees "chickenhead," a term that means prostitute. His supervisor, Lt. Marshall Schmidt, also was reprimanded for failing to report the complaint.

And two weeks ago, Sgt. Leighwynn Howell was suspended for 15 days without pay and demoted to deputy based on findings that he sexually harassed female inmates and subordinates.

Sheriff Everett Rice said Friday that he put in place a new policy about a month ago in response to the three complaints. All sexual harassment or hostile work environment cases now must be referred to internal affairs and cannot be handled by a supervisor.

"We're focused on the issue and want to make sure it's not happening," he said.

Still, Rice said nearly 900 people work in detention and corrections. The three complaints are not an indication that there is a culture of sexual harassment at the facility, he said.

Smith resigned Monday after internal affairs investigators summoned him to an interview. In so doing, he avoided answering questions. He had been on administrative leave since Feb. 4, when the investigation began.

"People have been hurt and disappointed," he told investigators. "Most of this has been speculation, rumors and innuendo. It is best to move on and start anew.

"What's done is done and it seems to be evident that a number of people reject my leadership," he added. "I apologize to them."

Employees accused Smith of showing favoritism to a female drill instructor, who later told investigators that Smith made sexual comments to her and called her often at home on her days off, usually to make personal remarks about how he missed having her at work, records show.

Cellular telephone records show Smith called the woman at home 15 times from April to October. He also called her cell phone twice.

The favoritism alienated the drill instructor from other employees, which she later told investigators appeared to be part of a plan by Smith to keep her close to him.

Another employee told investigators Smith lured her to his home while his wife was in Vermont by asking her to follow him home because he had been drinking. Once at his home, Smith told her he needed help setting his alarm clock.

The woman set the clock. When she turned around, Smith put his arms around her and told her not to be afraid, records state.

She said she pushed him out of the way and left. The woman said Smith told her the next day: "We're going to keep last night between the two of us, right?" records state.

She said Smith also made lewd comments to her on two occasions.

The drill instructor told investigators she would try pushing Smith away when he made comments, but he then would treat her coldly. He also threatened to prevent her advancement at the Sheriff's Office, she said.

Internal Affairs Sgt. Greg Handsel said the case did not reach an administrative review board because of Smith's resignation. He said several accusations were reported by multiple employees. Had Smith not resigned, he could have faced a demotion, suspension or termination, Handsel said.