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NEWS > 11 June 2006

Other related articles:

Sheriff under investigation
The Virginia State Police is investigating Culpeper County Sheriff H. Lee Hart as a result of accusations filed nearly three years ago by his current political rival.

Scott Jenkins, a sergeant with the Culpeper Police Department and former investigator with the Sheriff’s Office, is running for sheriff in November’s election. Hart, in office since 2000, has yet to announce his candidacy.

On Monday, the State Police confirmed the investigation and Jenkins outlined his case. Hart denied the accusations and pointed to election-year politics.

“Last week I spoke with... Read more

 Article sourced from

Lakeland Ledger - Lakeland,FL,
11 June 2006
This article appeared in the above title/site.
To view it in its entirity click this link.


Three Lake Wales Officers Disg

LAKE WALES -- The State Attorney's Office will no longer accept testimony from three Lake Wales police officers who Circuit Judge Dennis Maloney said "were lying" when they testified in a December hearing regarding the suppression of evidence.

The decision Friday by State Attorney Jerry Hill could effectively end the law enforcement careers in Polk County of Sgt. Donald Pelt, Detective Jeffrey Chauncey and Patrolman Juan Lopez.

Hill said the officers would no longer be used in court cases, meaning any evidence they gather would not be used at trial.

"The honesty and integrity of a law enforcement officer are essential to the prosecution of a criminal case," Hill wrote in a letter to Lake Wales Police Chief Herbert Gillis.

"Our office must be able to vouch for the credibility of the officers who testify on behalf of the State of Florida," Hill wrote. "As a result of the conduct of these three officers, this office will no longer use them as witnesses, whether they are working for your department or some other agency."

State Attorney Investigator Charles Zeller found there was no evidence to support taking action against Officer Tracy Chaney, who has since left the Lake Wales Department and now works for the Eagle Lake Police Department.

Chief Gillis said he could not comment on the matter until the Lake Wales department completes disciplinary action, "pursuant to the Police Officer's Bill of Rights" in Florida statutes.

"We're going to take whatever action is appropriate," Gillis said.

He said disciplinary action against the three officers, who have been on unpaid leave for about a month, is expected to be completed this week.

The three officers could not be reached for comment Friday.

The case stems from an April 2005 drive-by shooting with a BB gun at a car wash. A car occupied by two 20-year-old men and a juvenile was stopped shortly after a man reported being shot with a BB gun.

Lawyer Geoffrey Foster, who represented one of the men, later filed a motion to have evidence in the case suppressed on the grounds that police used coercion and improperly staged a scene at the Police Department to get statements.

According to testimony at the suppression hearing, the defendant's mother and aunt were brought into the interrogation room and the aunt agreed to be handcuffed.

The defendant was told that -- unless he confessed -- she would be in trouble because she owned the car that the shot was fired from.

In addition, the officers threatened the defendant with prison rape and made other improper comments, according to testimony.

The officers denied the charges, but Judge Maloney did not find them credible.

In testimony, the officers either denied the incident or said they did not recall it.

"Common sense dictates that if three officers handcuffed a completely innocent civilian for the purpose of scaring a defendant, the police officers would remember the incident," Maloney wrote. "I cannot think of a single good reason why three officers would conspire to commit perjury in a case such as this. But having watched and listened to all the witnesses, I conclude that the mother and aunt were telling the truth and the police were lying."

The charges stemming from the BB gun incident have since been dropped.

Zeller said in his investigation report that Lopez had admitted during a Feb. 10 interview that he had handcuffed the aunt and that Pelt and Chauncey were present at the time.

But during the suppression hearing, Pelt testified that the woman "was not handcuffed."

Chauncey testified that he did not recall whether the aunt had been handcuffed.

Asked if one of the women was put in handcuffs, Lopez initially said the aunt was not handcuffed, then amended the statement.

"Oh, wait a minute, yes -- yes one of them was," he testified. "I believe so. I'm not sure."

All three officers testified that they had been in and out of the interrogation room at various times and were not there the entire time.

Pelt, who was the shift supervisor, told Zeller during an April interview that he did not learn about the handcuffing incident until Lopez told him about it in February.

In concluding that the officers lied during the suppression hearing, Zeller said, "Sadly, had they told the truth at that time, the worst consequence might have been the suppression of their evidence. They would still have their integrity."

Pelt, 41, was hired by the Lake Wales Police Department in 1988. He had worked for the Davenport Police Department from 1985 to 1987, but resigned because of a pending perjury charge.

At the time, the State Attorney's Office said Pelt had lied in a deposition when he denied that he had shown a robbery suspect to a store clerk, while they were in the Police Department, according to his personnel file.

Pelt later recanted the statement, and Circuit Judge Dale Durrance dismissed the charge.

Since being hired in Lake Wales, Pelt has generally drawn favorable comments from residents and supervisors, according to his file. Promoted to sergeant in 2001, Pelt has at times worked part time as a law enforcement instructor at Polk Community College.

He was named the VFW Officer of the Year in 1993, served as the department's professional standards officer in 1998, and in 1997 was named vice president of the Central Florida Background Investigations Association.

He got good marks in his last performance review, although was told to "check reports for mistakes."

"He continues to motivate personnel well," the review said.

Pelt is paid $21.41 per hour, which would be an annual salary of $44,532, based on a 40-hour week.

Chauncey, 43, was hired in December 1998. His salary is $15.92 per hour, or $33,113 per year. He received an "average" rating in his last performance review.

Lopez, 28, who was hired in September 2003, is paid $14.51 per hour, or $30,180 annually. He had also received an "average" evaluation.

In February, he received a written reprimand for failing to confirm the identification of a woman, which resulted in the arrest of the wrong person.

In January 2005, he was counseled for improperly disposing of seized evidence, and he received a verbal reprimand in October after driving over a 2-foot metal canister that was in the road at the Longleaf Business Park.

Lopez was helping to search for a suspect at the time.
 

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