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Officer's actions under increasing scrutiny

David Duncan joined the Tampa Police Department in December 1999, after agency officials awarded him a police academy scholarship.

His first-year evaluation praised his "excellent attitude" and his ability to "control any situation" and "quickly gain the respect of the public."

But by the end of his second year, internal affairs investigators were scrutinizing Duncan for what would become a pattern of unprofessionalism.

His latest missteps - sexual harassment of a co-worker, mistreatment of a driver on a traffic stop - were revealed last week. By then, Duncan, 28, had already been reprimanded at least three times for conduct violations.

The officers who got in trouble with him have personnel files filled with overwhelmingly positive evaluations.

Duncan's file portrays a hard-working, ambitious officer with a short fuse.

Attempts to reach him for comment were unsuccessful.

Annual evaluations consistently found that he met expectations and at times exceeded them.

He received a "Catch of the Month" award in 2003 for apprehending a burglary suspect who helped investigators get information about other cases. The same year, Duncan was applauded for performing CPR on a man. Doctors told police the man would have died without Duncan's help.

Yet records show Duncan was suspended one day in 2001 for refusing to identify himself to a citizen. The man had reported his car stolen but later said he lent it to a friend who did not return it on time.

According to the internal affairs investigation, the car owner told investigators that Duncan "got mean" and threatened to arrest him on charges of filing a false police report.

In November 2004, Duncan once again violated the standard of conduct policy, this time by being rude and belligerent with the staff at the State Attorney's Office, nearly driving an employee to tears.

Duncan had not delivered evidence a prosecutor needed for a trial, which had led to a trial delay. He later agreed to bring the evidence to the State Attorney's Office, but only if the prosecutor met him at his car.

"I don't want to have to pay to park," Duncan said, according to investigators.

He called the prosecutor's office when he arrived downtown, and she sent an assistant outside. When the assistant could not immediately find his car, Duncan called again and said she needed to "get her butt down here."

"And while you're at it, you need to bring me $5 for my gas, my time," Duncan said. Secretaries told investigators that Duncan was "screaming at the top of his lungs."

Duncan later told internal affairs officials the gas comment was "a joke."

Nonetheless, he received a written reprimand.

The recent investigation found that Duncan and officers Ryan Sigler and Greg Cotner sexually harassed officer Martha Gearity with constant talk of bowel movements, flatulence and homosexual sex. The officers burped and passed gas over the police radio, sometimes preventing other officers from communicating with each other.

According to the report, Gearity and other squad members described the following behavior:

During a prostitution sting, Duncan photographed his penis with Cotner's camera phone, then passed the image around to squad members.

Duncan and Sigler once radioed in a false report of a fight, prompting Gearity and Officer Sean Stuart to race to Sulphur Springs for no reason.

While on duty, Duncan entered a restaurant for dinner without his firearm, despite protests from other officers.

Duncan and Cotner left an area where the squad was conducting operations to make arrests on their own, but did not tell fellow officers. A transvestite prostitute hit the two with pepper spray and led them on a foot chase.

Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said Duncan had two other cases in which he was found to have violated policy, but he went to a complaint review board and an arbitrator ruled against discipline. In 2002, he received an oral admonishment for a conduct violation. Details on those cases were not available.

Duncan's future with the department is uncertain. He and the other officers, as well as his two former supervisors, face penalties ranging from suspension to termination.

Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at (813) 226-3373 or svansickler@sptimes.com.

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