The following article was written by Stephen Nohlgren and posted at TampaBay.com on February 18, 2013. As you can probably determine, the comments outside of the highlighted sections were written by me. -Kate
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office will not seek criminal charges against four former narcotics deputies forced out of their jobs last year amid allegations of trespassing, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Monday.
In a letter to State Attorney Bernie McCabe, Gualtieri said his office was right to get rid of the deputies, but did not have enough evidence to charge them with a crime.
Among other things, he said, officers were compelled to give statements as part of an employment disciplinary action and Florida law does not allow those statements to then be used to build a criminal case.
“While the evidence in the administrative case amply met the burden of proof to establish wrongdoing,” Gualtieri said, “I have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to meet the burden of proof in a criminal case.”
If the trespassers in question were not government employees, it is almost a guarantee that Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and his colleagues would gather enough evidence to charge the offenders with a crime.
Gualtieri sent thousands of pages of investigative documents to McCabe’s office in case prosecutors want to pursue the matter further, the letter said. Armed trespassing is a felony.
Unfortunately, it is likely that the prosecutor, like Sheriff Gualtieri, has the misconception that badges grant extra rights.
The narcotics unit came under scrutiny in late 2011 after they raided the home of Seminole resident Allen Underwood and seized indoor pot plants. Underwood had an outdoor surveillance system and said his cameras had caught Sgt. Chris Taylor and Deputy Paul Giovannoni trespassing several nights before the raid. Taylor jumped his fence, he said.
First and foremost, how can possessing a plant justify anybody breaking into a person’s home, stealing their property, or kidnapping them? Also, isn’t video footage sufficient evidence to prove that a crime was committed?
Narcotics officers seized the DVD images during the raid and Taylor ordered them to be destroyed.
I think it’s pretty clear what the incentive for doing that was.
The Tampa Bay Times also reported that Giovannoni had dressed in a Progress Energy uniform to gain access to another suspect’s property.
Defense lawyers said detectives had secured search warrants by claiming they could smell marijuana from the street or adjoining property — but were trespassing to get close enough to the houses to peak inside, listen for fans or otherwise make sure indoor pot farms were indeed inside.
Well, of course they did. It’s not like they have to worry about being held accountable.
During a deposition, one lawyer asked deputy Kyle Alston under oath if he had ever seen his colleagues “jump fences,” and Alston refused to answer.
After the Times reported this refusal, Alston admitted that he and deputy Michael Sciarrino had once broken down a fence to enter property illegally, Gualtieri said.
The sheriff put all four deputies on administrative leave in March, while his investigators looked into the allegations.
Taylor, Giovannoni and Sciarrino resigned in June. Alston was fired.
None of the deputies could be reached for comment.
Taylor, Giovannoni, Sciarrino, and Alston were trespassing on Allen Underwood’s property with the intent to do harm to both his person and his property, yet they will not face ‘criminal charges’. An overwhelming majority of the people who are held in cages funded by
taxes theft have committed “crimes” that do not have a victim. Is it just me or is there something seriously wrong here?
Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office
10750 Ulmerton Road
Largo, FL 33778