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At least 49 Fla. police supervisors falsified hours, were not disciplined
St. Petersburg, Fla.
   
 
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A judge has ordered the police department to produce records that could show whether the allegations by two demoted lieutenants are true

Mark Puente
Tampa Bay Times

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Two St. Petersburg police lieutenants demoted in 2018 for falsifying work hours say that 49 other supervisors committed similar misdeeds, but did not face discipline, according to Pinellas County court records.

The accusations took center stage in a recent court battle and raise questions about why St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway didn’t order investigations nearly two years ago into allegations that could cost taxpayers thousands of dollars.

In their arbitration case, former police lieutenants Cynthia Davis and Cleven Wyatt asked the city to produce time-keeping records and location-tracking data on 49 lieutenants and sergeants to determine their work-time whereabouts from August 2017 to January 2018. It’s the same records the city used to discipline Davis and Wyatt in June 2018. Investigators found that the demoted officers were faking hours instead of showing up for work on time and submitted time sheets for overtime while their police cruisers were still parked at home.

Both are seeking their former ranks, lost pay and attorney fees. Davis is a patrol officer, and Wyatt retired in September 2019.

The city refused to produce the records. Officials called it a “fishing expedition" and asked a judge to deny the request.

But Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Thomas Ramsberger disagreed. In March, he ordered the city to produce the records. The city must “create the same charts used to support the demotion of (Davis and Wyatt) for each of the 49 law enforcement officers,” Ramsberger wrote in an order.

The following month, two lieutenants among the 49 officers retired, police records show.

Holloway said he could not answer questions about the allegations because of the ongoing arbitration. But his statement said the department “is working diligently to fulfill those voluminous requests” for records. Davis and Wyatt, he said, have not filed complaints against any specific police officer for falsifying work hours.

"I take such matters very seriously and the Office of Professional Standards investigates all complaints of falsification of work hours,” the statement said. “Once the court case is resolved, if any member of the Police Dept. is shown to have falsified work hours, I will ask OPS to open an investigation on that individual.”

Janet Wise, an attorney for Davis and Wyatt, said the department “unjustly demoted” the duo for “engaging in an acceptable practice in which many co-workers also engaged.” Both officers alerted Holloway and Assistant Chief Michael Kovacsev about the widespread practices, Wise said, but nobody else was investigated.

“The Police Department’s actions have hurt the public,” Wise said in a statement. “The Police Department has wasted taxpayer money defending Davis and Wyatt’s grievances, arbitration claims and taking this matter to Circuit Court to attempt to quash" the release of the records.

Since Davis and Wyatt lodged the allegations, Holloway has promoted five of the lieutenants to majors on his command staff, and three of the sergeants have become lieutenants, records show.

Samuel Walker, professor emeritus of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska Omaha, commended Holloway for taking action in 2018, but said he didn’t go far enough once new allegations surfaced. With allegations against so many supervisors, Holloway should have asked an outside agency to investigate, Walker said.

This could be an example of a systemic problem in the department, said Walker, who has worked for years with the U.S. Department of Justice on police accountability protocols. “He should have asked himself, ‘How far has this spread?’ ”

The Tampa Bay Times contacted several St. Petersburg City Council members for comment. Robert Blackmon and Gina Driscoll said they did not know about the allegations and declined to comment. Darden Rice, Lisa Wheeler-Brown and Brandi Gabbard did not respond. Amy Foster said the city’s legal department “has already gotten to us, advising not to speak about a matter in arbitration.”

The initial internal investigation started after a tipster reported in January 2018 that Davis, Wyatt and Lt. Dennis Bolender were improperly recording work hours.

As watch commanders, the lieutenants led a team of about 10 officers in patrol sectors. The internal investigation found that when the three lieutenants were supposed to be on duty from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., they were sometimes still en route, driving to and from their homes in Tarpon Springs and Lithia.

Investigators examined data collected from Aug. 1, 2017, to Jan. 28, 2018. They looked at payroll systems, as well as laptop and vehicle trackers. They also analyzed paper check-in and check-off sheets, and the entry swipe-card system at the department.

In some cases, the watch commanders submitted time sheets stating they were working overtime while their police cruisers were still parked at home.

A command review board sustained falsification and improper procedures complaints against Davis and Wyatt in June 2018. Bolender retired a week before his hearing.

At the time, Davis made $105,768 a year. She joined the department in June 1996 and was promoted to lieutenant in 2016. Wyatt earned $110,614. He joined the force in October 1987 and had been a lieutenant since 2006. The demotions dropped their pay to $79,518 a year.

In court filings, Wise said that St. Petersburg police leaders ignored Davis’ request to investigate other supervisors. The city said it had no information that the other 49 supervisors committed similar acts when it demoted the officers, and said that Davis and Wyatt provided no evidence, according to a court filing.

Davis told investigators “she believed that it was a common practice for Sergeants and Lieutenants to do the same thing that she, Wyatt and Bolender were accused of doing,” Wise wrote in a court filing.

Davis and Wyatt told internal investigators, Holloway and Kovacsev in 2018 about the common practice among supervisors, but didn’t name individuals, records show.

“I can tell you it’s more than just the three of us,” Davis told an investigator, adding: “I guarantee you, if you check everybody’s, you’ll see that what I’m telling you is the common practice that goes on every single day.”

Wyatt made a similar declaration to Holloway and Kovacsev in a June 2018 hearing.

“All the lieutenants," Wyatt said. "All the lieutenants that are out there right now, you go and look at, do the same review over here, and you’ll see it.”

Davis and Wyatt now contend that the city “treated them differently" and imposed “disparate discipline," records show.

To defend themselves, the duo requested the same records and charts on other officers. The city declined their request, saying the records would reveal home addresses of officers, which are exempt under the state public records act. The record request included the names of 49 sergeants and lieutenants out of a total of 71.

In August, an arbitrator ordered the city to release the same documents on the 49 officers that were used to discipline Davis, Wyatt and Bolender. The arbitrator later told the city to use letters or pseudonyms to shield the addresses.

In October, assistant city attorney Danielle Martin wrote in a court filing that “the production of any underlying records is a fishing expedition and not relevant to the discipline.” In March, Ramsberger ordered the city to create the charts and shield the identity of the 49 supervisors by using numbers.

The records must be returned to the city once the arbitration ends, the judge wrote. The arbitration is on hold until the city can produce the records. A phone conference with Ramsberger is scheduled for June 3.

The department has an obligation to treat all employees equally, Wise said.

“Davis and Wyatt are not looking for others to be punished,” her statement said, “but rather for the Police Department to reinstate them to the positions they would have held had the Police Department not wrongly demoted them.”

In June 2018, Holloway told the Times that he created a policy to prevent future abuses. Last week, the Times requested a copy of the policy. Holloway said in his statement that he issued a “verbal directive to his command staff” and a “not a written policy.”

“The chief definitely should have issued a written directive or policy regarding shift changes,” Walker said.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service


Comments:
What the H E Double Hockey Sticks!!! - A crime is a crime no matter who are what occupation you have - Fraud is fraud
Posted by Sasquatch at 5/22/2020 10:21:31 AM

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