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St. Pete police officers’ conduct leads to suspensions

By Stephen Thompson
Published: November 8, 2013 Updated: November 8, 2013 at 12:59 PM

ST. PETERSBURG — As he radioed back and forth with his colleagues one night in July, St. Petersburg police patrol Officer Robert Leoce said it was “always a shame” when one of the cars they chased in the city’s predominantly south side didn’t crash, resulting in someone’s death.

Later, another officer, David Kimes, told Leoce he should be careful about what he does “down there,” because he could be “suspended or fired if they call, if they get the NAACP involved,” according to a 20-page transcript of the July 11 radio communications.

As for Kimes, he preferred working the city’s predominantly white north side. “Nobody is going to complain on ya up here,” he is recorded saying.

Partly as a result of these remarks, Leoce, Kimes and another officer, Michael Carter, were suspended Thursday, according to an internal affairs memorandum. A fourth officer, Eric Galloway, 31, resigned during an investigation into the matter and would have been suspended for five days had he not, the memorandum says.

Leoce, 38, was suspended for two days; Kimes, 38, for three days, and Carter, 41, for two.

Technically, internal affairs investigators looked into whether the quartet had violated the department’s pursuit policy July 12 as they zeroed in on cars that day that appeared suspect, only to watch them speed away.

Assistant Police Chief Luke Williams determined they had not violated the agency’s pursuit policy but had engaged in conduct “unbecoming” an employee and were inefficient in the way they did their jobs.

Details in the internal affairs file back up what many critics of the police department – and of Police Chief Chuck Harmon and Mayor Bill Foster – have been saying for months during the recent mayoral campaign: that officers working the south side had adopted a cowboy mentality and were increasingly unprofessional.

Foster lost his bid for re-election Tuesday.

On July 12, a woman named Lillian Baker sent an email to Harmon questioning what she believed was a police pursuit the night before near 18th Avenue South and 37th Street, according to a summary of the case.

The officers told internal affairs investigators that they typically converged on suspect vehicles, such as stolen cars, but their intent was to keep them under surveillance, not to pursue them.

At no point that night did any of the officers chase a suspect vehicle, the officers claimed, though they said they sped up a bit on occasion in a vain effort to catch up with a vehicle. GPS-type devices on their squad cars showed they often exceeded a speed limit on a particular street doing so.

Internal affairs investigators then scrutinized what the officers said that night.

Kimes acknowledged he sometimes gets “lax” on the radio because he and his colleagues don’t use a major channel. He equated it with “talking face to face,” according to a summary of his interview.

“Officer Kimes did agree there were statements made on the radio which could be considered inappropriate, become public record and be misperceived by the public,” the summary states.

Carter, on the other hand, didn’t think there was anything wrong with what he said on the radio. Kimes at one point referred to a homeless man commonly seen on the south side as Carter’s father, to which Carter responded, “That must be your Daddy from Georgia,” according to the transcript.

Leoce acknowledged that it was inappropriate for him to say it was “always” a “shame” when a car didn’t crash.

And he thought something else he said was inappropriate.

When Kimes told him to be careful lest his actions draw a protest from the NAACP, Leoce said, “I’m not lucky enough to get fired; they won’t do that to me. That would make me happy.”

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