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Pinellas deputies disciplined after accused robber escapes from cruiser

The entrance to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office administration building at 10750 Ulmerton Road in Largo. An investigation by the office found that a sergeant and a deputy were at fault for allowing a suspect to escape from a cruiser. [KATHRYN VARN  Times]
The entrance to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office administration building at 10750 Ulmerton Road in Largo. An investigation by the office found that a sergeant and a deputy were at fault for allowing a suspect to escape from a cruiser. [KATHRYN VARN Times]
Published Feb. 5, 2018

DUNEDIN — An accused robber escaped from a Pinellas County Sheriff's Office cruiser, prompting punishment for the sergeant and deputy responsible.

According to an internal investigation, Deputy Compton Persaud didn't check to see if the back windows were disabled in his cruiser during a December arrest, and Sgt. Kristofor Wendel didn't keep adequate lookout of the cruiser while Persaud was helping colleagues. That allowed 28-year-old William Joseph Woodward, accused of trying to rob a Dollar Tree, to escape, the investigation found.

Woodward was arrested hours later at his Dunedin home and booked into the Pinellas County Jail, where records show he remained Monday on escape, resisting an officer and robbery charges, along with an unrelated burglary charge.

Through a Sheriff's Office spokesman, Wendel, a 13-year Sheriff's Office employee, and Persaud, hired at the agency 11 years ago, declined to comment. They both received retraining and review of the prisoner handling and supervision policy.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said a prisoner escape is always a concern, but factors including that Persaud was using a spare car, not his assigned cruiser, eased the level of punishment.

"In a perfect world they should have been more attentive," he said. "People make mistakes."

According to arrest reports, Woodward entered the Dollar Tree at 928 Patricia Ave. in Dunedin and approached a cashier. He put a bottle of soda on the counter, reached into his jacket pocket and told the cashier, "Do not touch the soda. Give me all the money from the register."

The cashier ran, so he approached two other employees with the same line, deputies said. He left the store without getting any money. Deputies said he had a folding knife in his pocket.

Persaud saw Woodward running from the store as an employee came out and yelled for help. He caught up to Woodward and arrested him, then put him in the back of the cruiser he was using.

Persaud, 40, went to help colleagues find the weapon while Wendel, 42, watched Persaud's cruiser. When Persaud returned about nine minutes later, Woodward was gone. The back passenger window was wide open.

Persaud later said he inspected the cruiser but did not check to see if the back door and window locks were disabled, according to the investigation. Wendel said he couldn't see the passenger side because of the way his cruiser was positioned.

Contact Kathryn Varn at kvarn@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.

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