ST. PETERSBURG — A city police officer faces charges in Hillsborough County of unlawful sexual activity with a minor.
St. Petersburg police Officer Iraj Karkevandian, 34, turned himself in Wednesday to face allegations that he had sex last year with a girl who was 17 at the time, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
The patrol officer was suspended without pay pending the outcome of the case.
An attorney representing Karkevandian said the allegations are false and the officer never met the girl in person. Instead, they met in an online gaming community, said Tampa attorney Mark O’Brien, and Karkevandian didn't realize she was a teenager.
Karkevandian made his assessment based on her username and photo icon — a Chevrolet Corvette, the attorney said.
"Officer Karkevandian is innocent and we intend to prove it," O'Brien said Thursday in a prepared statement.
Karkevandian met the girl on an instant messenger app between 2013 and 2014, the Sheriff's Office said in a news release. He started calling her and sometimes asked to meet in person. In October or November 2017, Karkevandian went to her house and had sex with her, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Karkevandian turned himself in Wednesday and was booked into the Hillsborough County jail. He was released from jail early Thursday on $7,500 bail.
Karkevandian had been working on administrative duty since Dec. 6 when St. Petersburg police learned that Hillsborough Sheriff's Office investigators were questioning him, according to the news release. He didn't tell his supervisor he was under scrutiny, a violation of department rules, according to the release.
The department was notified Tuesday that the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office had filed charges. Karkevandian, hired by St. Petersburg police in June 2014, was placed on paid administrative leave and later suspended without pay.
O'Brien said his client has taken two polygraph tests, supporting his contentions that he didn't have sexual contact with the victim and that they never met in person. Results of polygraph tests are generally not admissible in court.
O’Brien also questioned how the state made its case, saying the investigation moved too quickly and didn't specify an exact date for any crime. O'Brien's firm has conducted its own investigation and plans to release the findings soon.
The State Attorney's Office said investigators felt they had sufficient evidence to charge Karkevandian but declined to comment further, a spokeswoman for the office said.
Contact Kathryn Varn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.