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Sgt. John Pikramenos was suspended in 2004 because of a relationship with a co-worker.

A sergeant running for Pinellas County sheriff was suspended from work for 10 days about three years ago for having a romantic relationship with a co-worker - a misstep that internal affairs investigators say lessened both employees' effectiveness.

Jim Coats was not yet the sheriff when Sgt. John Pikramenos was disciplined in 2004, but Coats said that case was one of several that led him as sheriff to establish an antiadultery policy for married employees.

Created in October 2005, the policy is the first of its kind among Tampa Bay law enforcement agencies. So far, it has resulted in two sheriff's employees being disciplined.

Coincidentally, Pikramenos, a Democrat, is now one of four candidates challenging Coats, the Republican incumbent.

Pikramenos insists his relationship with child protection investigator Erika Parker - now his girlfriend - started after he transferred out of the bureau where she worked and after both had, in effect, ended their first marriages.

Moreover, he said the internal affairs case does not reflect his qualifications as a candidate. Those qualifications, he said, include his experience in high-profile cases, on a federal racketeering task force, in the work to write Pinellas County's adult use ordinance, in supervisory assignments in seven areas - from robbery to intelligence - and in internal affairs itself.

Pikramenos, 53, said he can draw on his long and successful career at the Sheriff's Office to improve the agency's performance and morale.

"I'm an intelligent individual with 30 years of experience," said Pikramenos, who currently supervises a street-level anticrime unit known as the S.T.A.R. Team. "I have an impeccable record with the exception of the internal affairs investigation."

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The file summarizing the internal affairs investigation is about 900 pages long, with about half of that consisting of statements from those involved.

Pikramenos and Parker, 31, told investigators they started developing feelings for each other around December 2003 but did not act on them for many months.

In early February 2004, Pikramenos was ending a stint as a sergeant in the Child Protection Investigations Bureau. Parker, married to a Sheriff's Office corporal at the time, was not in Pikramenos' immediate chain of command.

The complaint against them stemmed from an incident Feb. 2, 2004.

On that day, child protection investigator Marcy Denny said she was parked in her work-issued Contour at a shopping center and doing paperwork when Pikramenos arrived in his work-issued Impala.

Denny said Parker arrived a few minutes later in her Contour and got into Pikramenos' car.

Watching from a distance, Denny said she saw the heads of both Pikramenos and Parker "disappear" for 10 or 15 minutes.

Denny told internal affairs investigators under oath she believed something sexual occurred.

The internal affairs case file also contains e-mails from Parker to Pikramenos. In them, she appears to talk about a sexual relationship that may have started before the encounter Denny saw.

Pikramenos and Parker testified they met at the parking lot Feb. 2, 2004, because she needed to talk to a friend.

They said Parker was distraught because of her troubled marriage and because of her father's ill heath. His leg had been amputated and he was in a coma. They denied that anything sexual happened in the car.

Parker testified that her e-mails made reference to fantasies, not things that had happened. Pikramenos also disputed the date on one e-mail.

They said their sexual relationship started in April 2004, about three months after Pikramenos had transferred out of Child Protections Investigations. At the time, Parker's divorce was final and Pikramenos had filed for his.

Still, in October 2004, sheriff's officials concluded that Pikramenos had engaged in a romantic relationship with a co-worker that created a distraction in the office. He also was not as efficient and effective as possible because he spent an excessive amount of time with Parker in his office, officials said.

He was faulted for not notifying his supervisors about the relationship and for spending more than 74 hours over several months on the phone with Parker during work hours.

Besides the suspension, Pikramenos also was placed on six months' supervisory probation. Parker was suspended for seven days.

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Although investigators did not substantiate that a sexual relationship happened on or before Feb. 2, 2004, Coats said he saw in Pikramenos' case and several others the need to establish a clear-cut rule for employees.

The antiadultery policy prohibits sheriff's employees from living with, dating or having intimate relationships with each other if at least one of them is married.

Coats said he would not make Pikramenos' discipline an issue during the campaign.

But "the voters might," Coats said. "I'm going to try to run a campaign based on what we stand for and what we represent."

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Pikramenos takes offense that Coats saw his relationship with Parker as part of the catalyst for his decision to create an antiadultery policy.

"I'm telling you point-blank," he said. "When Miss Brock (Parker's married name) and I started dating, I was legally separated from my wife."

He said the episode should be put in context with his three decades of service in which he has no other discipline.

His work evaluations show he also was praised for his work in Child Protection Investigations.

The evaluations also contain many marks for "exemplary performance," the highest rating, including the one covering the time period in which he was disciplined.

"I have had one internal affairs incident in 30 years," Pikramenos said. "For someone to say that one incident should put a (blemish) on my record is ludicrous."

Jose Cardenas can be reached at or (727) 445-4224.