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Cloud again over Explorer program

A Boy Scout program aimed at exposing young people to law enforcement is once again at the center of sex abuse allegations.

Pinellas detectives are investigating whether a former sheriff's dispatcher had inappropriate sexual contact with a 15-year-old boy in the agency's Explorer program.

A second investigation is looking into whether the same 15-year-old had sexual contact with a 17-year-old boy in the Explorer program. Under state law, a 15-year-old cannot consent to sex.

No one has been arrested in either case.

The Explorer program allows boys and girls of ages 14 to 21 to train alongside deputies in various units, from forensics to the SWAT team.

Sheriff's spokesman Mac McMullen released few details about the allegations, which concern events that occurred two to three years ago.

"The investigation is still open," McMullen said. "Interviews are being conducted, and detectives are working with the state attorney for a resolution."

The identities of the two teenagers and the former dispatcher, also a male, were not released because the case is still under investigation.

This is not the first controversy involving a local Explorers program.

In 2000, Largo police began an internal investigation into allegations and found that three officers had had sexual relationships with female Explorers and two officers knew or heard rumors about possible misconduct but failed to report what they heard to supervisors.

The allegations involving the sheriff's program surfaced on Tuesday as the agency released records concerning another employee, Deputy Jason O. Brown.

Brown, a 9-year veteran on patrol, received a 10-day suspension last week after an internal probe found he did not report that the dispatcher may have committed a crime. He had also failed to be forthcoming when detectives initially questioned him about the sex allegations, according to internal affairs investigators.

Brown could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

He told internal affairs detectives, however, that he suspected the dispatcher might be having a relationship with the boy but was unable to confirm it. The teen had answered Brown's questions with conflicting statements, and the dispatcher denied there was a relationship, Brown told detectives.

Brown also worried that his suspicions were based on his own jealousy; he had dated the dispatcher in the past.

He cited another reason for his not coming forward: He said he was hoping to be transferred to the agency's sexual predator and offender unit and thought the case might reflect poorly on him.

"Yes, I could have done more maybe and if I had to do it all over again, I would do it differently," he said.