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Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri hires deputy with checkered past

Sheila Fowlie Langlais, 45, became a deputy in July.
Sheila Fowlie Langlais, 45, became a deputy in July.
Published Apr. 28, 2014

LARGO — Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has taken a tough stance when it comes to disciplining his deputies.

But he was more forgiving when it came to the hiring of a deputy who had previously resigned during internal affairs investigations at two other police departments.

Sheila Fowlie Langlais, 45, also had been the subject of a wrongful arrest lawsuit after a man spent 39 days in jail before prosecutors dropped charges.

When asked why he would hire a deputy with that background, Gualtieri defended the decision.

"People change. People grow up. People mature," Gualtieri said. "What are you going to do — hold that against her her whole life?"

Langlais declined to comment for this story. Her former employers, the Tarpon Springs and Pinellas Park police departments, also declined to comment.

Langlais began her law enforcement career in Tarpon Springs in February 2000, according to state records.

The next year, then-Sgt. Ronald Surmin was being investigated over having a romantic relationship with Langlais. She had told internal affairs investigators the relationship lasted from July to November 2000, and Surmin was her direct supervisor during part of that time, police records show. Surmin's advances were initially unwelcome, she said, but she "later developed feelings" for him and "consented to a relationship."

Langlais also told investigators she and Surmin never had sex, but had kissed and slept at each other's homes.

Surmin retired before the investigation was completed.

Langlais, who had been placed on administrative leave, resigned in May 2001. That same year, she was hired by Pinellas Park police.

During the next four years, her supervisors noted Langlais made several errors, including losing a pair of handcuffs, loitering at a Walmart loss prevention office, and backing her personal vehicle into her patrol car, police records state. In September 2004, she received an 80-hour suspension for failing to turn in a ballistic vest from a drug investigation.

A lieutenant also chronicled Langlais' pursuit of an impaired motorcyclist in October 2005, saying she did not end a pursuit as instructed, records show.

Langlais resigned in November 2005 in lieu of a termination hearing.

That same year, she was sued in federal court over an arrest she made as a Tarpon Springs police officer. On Nov. 10, 2000, she was on routine patrol when a man grabbed her radio, ripped her uniform and punched her in the mouth, police said. Three months later, she stopped Timothy Scott Cole and identified him as her attacker. Cole told police he was working on a shrimp vessel in Cape Canaveral the day Langlais was injured — an alibi prosecutors say checked out.

Cole spent 39 days in jail before the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office declined to prosecute. In doing so, the office noted Langlais once identified another man as her attacker.

Cole sued Langlais, then-police Chief Mark LeCouris, and the city of Tarpon Springs for violating his constitutional rights. In 2006, the lawsuit was settled for $7,000, records show.

Last year, Langlais requested a meeting with Gualtieri to talk about working at the Pinellas Sheriff's Office.

Her husband, Cpl. Paul Langlais, has worked at the Sheriff's Office since 1999. They married in 2006.

Photographs on Sheila Langlais' Facebook profile last week showed her holding a "Keep Sheriff Bob Gualtieri" poster in Clearwater during Gualtieri's 2012 election campaign. The photos have since been removed.

Langlais was also Facebook friends with Gualtieri and his wife, Lauralee Westine, but Langlais also removed them from her page this week.

Asked whether he knew Sheila Langlais personally, the sheriff said: "I'm not friends with her. I don't socialize with her. The answer to that is no."

Gualtieri said he was concerned about Langlais' history at first but was "willing to give people second chances."

The Sheriff's Office hired Langlais as a criminal justice specialist in March 2013. In June, when the agency was in need of more deputies, Gualtieri spoke with Langlais' supervisors.

"The feedback was extremely positive. All the concerns that would have been there because of the past were non-existent," the sheriff said.

Langlais has been working as a deputy since July and is currently on a probationary period.

Michael Krohn, executive director of the Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association that represents about 600 sheriff's employees, said it takes "another good agency" to see past an officer's prior mistakes.

"I would hope that (Gualtieri) made the right decision. I would assume he did," Krohn said. "I don't see why he would have put his neck on the line for a deputy."

Times staff researchers Natalie A. Watson and Caryn Baird contributed to this report.