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Tampa councilman files internal affairs complaint against police union president

 
Tampa Police Benevolent Association president Vincent Gericitano denied making the gesture. [Times files (2015)] 
Tampa Police Benevolent Association president Vincent Gericitano denied making the gesture. [Times files (2015)] 
Published April 13, 2016

TAMPA — City Council member Frank Reddick filed an internal affairs complaint Tuesday against the president of Tampa's politically powerful police union.

The complaint — quite possibly an unprecedented action by an elected official against a Tampa police officer — is based on Reddick's contention that Tampa Police Benevolent Association president Vincent Gericitano made a throat-slashing gesture at a mention of Reddick's name during last week's City Council meeting.

Gericitano, who has said he made no such gesture and doesn't know what Reddick is talking about, did not respond to two requests for comment.

The incident in question took place after Reddick's name was put into nomination on what turned out to be the decisive vote in Thursday's council chairman election.

In that vote, Reddick, the sole black member of the council and an advocate for a stronger police review board that would be less under the control of the police, was replaced as council chairman by his colleague, Mike Suarez, on the 14th round of voting.

Just before the decisive vote, Reddick spoke directly to Geri­citano, saying, "You did this," then drawing an index finger across his throat.

"It was totally inappropriate," Reddick said Tuesday. "I don't know if other people saw it, but I saw the hand gesture. … The message was sent: 'We want you to support Suarez.' Not me."

Gericitano, he said, should apologize.

Reddick said the gesture violated a rule against gossip and criticism included in a Tampa Police Department "Manual of Regulations."

The rule says, "Department employees shall not publicly criticize or ridicule the department, city administration, or other city departments, their policies, or officers through speech, writing or expression in any other manner when such speech, writing, or other expression is defamatory, obscene, unlawful, slanderous, libelous or tends to impair the operation of the department by hampering its efficiency, interfering with the ability of supervisors to maintain discipline, or is made with reckless disregard for truth or falsity."

During that day's council discussion, Gericitano and several other PBA officers sat in the third row directly in front of Reddick. They did not speak at the meeting, but it appeared they came for the election, the first order of business at Thursday's session, because they left immediately after it was over.

"I have no idea what he's talking about," Gericitano said minutes after Reddick accused him at the meeting. If anything, he said, he might have been adjusting his collar at the moment Reddick noticed him. He said the PBA did not lobby council members on the chairman's election.

At the same time, he didn't have any problems with the outcome. "I think the council did the right thing," he said. "I think it was a little bit of a circus."

Unfortunately, the dispute over what Gericitano did or didn't do can't be settled by looking at video from the meeting.

The city's in-house television production team uses several cameras to cover the meeting. Depending on who is speaking, the cameras switch from views of the council to the chambers at various times during the proceedings. But the city records only what is being shown on its live stream, and the cameras were not focused on the crowd at the moment when Reddick said Gericitano made the gesture.

In 2010, the PBA endorsed Reddick. But the union was silent last year when Reddick ran for re-election and was returned to office without opposition. And since then, Reddick led the charge first to create a police review board, putting him at odds with police who felt it was unnecessary.

Then, when Mayor Bob Buckhorn signed an executive order to create a board in which he appointed most of the members, Reddick opposed that. Eventually, a majority of the council and Buckhorn compromised on a board where the council appointed four of 11 members.

But Reddick voted against the compromise. He continued to press for a board in which each of the seven council members appointed one member.

"I felt it was the best thing to do to bring about accountability," he said at the time of the compromise. "It was nothing against the Police Department. It was strictly to bring trust to this community."

Last month, Reddick joined activists in signing a petition seeking a referendum in November to replace the newly empaneled review board with an investigative and oversight panel with much more authority, including the power to subpoena officers, take complaints from the public, launch investigations and play an advisory role in hiring officers.

Despite that, Reddick said Tuesday that he thinks he could still win the union's support if he ran again for city office.

"It's not the whole union," he said. "It's the executive branch. I have major love for the police union."

Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times.