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Pinellas deputy who sent fake bomb now faces criminal charge

James Piper resigned after three decades years with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office after the agency said he sent a fake bomb to a colleague.
Former Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Deputy James Piper (left) resigned after the agency said he admitted sending a fake bomb (right) to a colleague as a joke, which resulted in a sheriff’s facility being evacuated. He now faces a felony charge of planting a hoax bomb.
Published Jan. 9

SEMINOLE — James Piper's 35-year career as a deputy ended Tuesday when the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said he sent a toy bomb to a colleague that resulted in a sheriff's building being evacuated and the bomb squad being called in.

Piper resigned after the incident, and on Wednesday his troubles really started:

The 59-year-old former deputy now faces a charge of planting a hoax bomb, which is a second-degree felony.

Piper turned himself in to the Pinellas County jail at about 4 p.m. Wednesday, where he was being held in lieu of $5,000 bail.

"It's ridiculous that a guy with his age and his experience thought this was okay," Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told the Tampa Bay Times after his agency announced the arrest. "It's pathetic really."

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: No joke: Toy bomb in mail costs Pinellas deputy his job

The Sheriff's Office said the incident started when the package was delivered to Lt. Joseph Gerretz. He opened the box at his desk at about 3 p.m. Tuesday, the agency said, then immediately left his office to tell his supervisor about the package. Inside the box was a handwritten note that said only "boom" written on a piece of paper, according to the Sheriff's Office. Beneath the plastic packaging was a red cylindrical-shaped object and protruding wires.

Portions of the building were evacuated and the Tampa Police Department bomb squad was called in. Gualtieri said about 100 people were displaced from the first floor of the administration building at 10750 Ulmerton Road. But a bomb-sniffing dog was able to get to the scene quickly enough and determine that the bomb wasn't a threat, the sheriff said, so the whole building didn't have to be evacuated.

"It turned out not to be a serious incident but it was serious in the sense that he shouldn't have done it and he definitely created fear," Gualtieri said.

The sheriff said the lieutenant even called his family to notify them to not open any packages at home. Gualtieri was forced to send an email to the entire agency telling his employees that the device was not be a threat.

After Piper saw the email, the agency said he immediately contacted his supervisor and informed him that he had sent the package to the lieutenant as a joke. Piper also resigned.

Gualtieri said he knew Piper, and that throughout the deputy's three decades of service he never had any major disciplinary issues.

Piper was a patrol deputy who worked for the Sheriff's Office from 1982 to 2015 and was rehired in July 2017. He worked mainly as a patrol deputy, though he also handled major accident investigations and court security assignments.

But the sheriff said that, given Piper's age and experience level, he should have known the consequences of his actions.

"This is a 59-year-old man who has been a cop for over 30 years and I guess thought this was okay to do and thought it was funny in some respects and it's not," Gualtieri said. "That's why it's a second-degree felony."

Contact McKenna Oxenden at moxenden@tampabay.com. Follow @mack_oxenden.

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