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Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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Plant City police chief is fired for misconduct

PLANT CITY — Plant City Police Chief Steve Singletary was fired Tuesday after an investigation into on-the-job misconduct concluded he called in sick and met a married woman for sex.

City Manager Greg Horwedel said Singletary was fired not for having an extramarital affair but for violating city policies by spending time with the woman when he should have been working and by impeding the investigation.

“It’s a public trust issue and I believe the public trust in this case was violated,” Horwedel said.

Melissa Hardwick, with whom Singletary had been having an affair, said in a sworn statement that City Commissioner Billy Keel reached out to her through a friend and asked that she not cooperate in the investigation to save the chief’s job. She said in her statement that Keel and Singletary are friends and “he wanted me not to speak to anyone about the affair.”

Keel could not be reached for comment.

Singletary, who is married to high school teacher Courtney Singletary, had a relationship with Hardwick for three years, beginning when he was a captain, a city report states. Melissa Hardwick said in her statement that the relationship escalated to sex about a year ago.

Hardwick’s husband, Jason, caught them together recently at an Orlando restaurant, took photographs and later complained to the city, Horwedel said.

Singletary was in Orlando for a police chiefs conference.

Singletary told his superiors about his affair a day after he was caught by Hardwick’s husband, but he insisted it was a personal matter, the city’s investigative report states. Jason Hardwick took his complaint to the city a few days later.

Singletary, 45, was not fired for having an affair but for violating the city’s code of conduct by, among other things, having sex with the 35-year-old Hardwick at the city-owned police pistol range, Horwedel said.

Police Officer Mark Mathis also was fired after the investigation revealed that in September 2011, he found Singletary and Melissa Hardwick parked on private property after a citizen’s complaint, Horwedel said. Singletary had met her at the location and arrived in an SUV while she took her car, the report states. Mathis reported, however, that the cars were gone upon his arrival, the city manager said.

Singletary acknowledged meeting her once a month but insisted their affair was a private matter and that he covered his time by taking vacation days, the report said. Hardwick said they had sex dozens of times including at the pistol range, at a remote location off Park Road and in his Orlando hotel room at the police conference. In some instances, city records showed Singletary had called in sick when he was meeting her, Horwedel said.

Singletary, an Air Force veteran, had been with the Plant City Police Department for 16 years. He was appointed police chief in April.

He was suspended from his $85,000 per year job on Jan. 17.

City Commissioner Mike Sparkman said he was disappointed in the chief but was proud the city acted quickly after Jason Hardwick filed his complaint.

The investigation was led by Assistant City Manager Bill McDaniel, who was police chief before Singletary, and retired Sarasota police chief John Lewis.

The report includes printed copies of text messages between Singletary and Jason Hardwick, during which he apologized for the affair.

“It was truly painful for me. The guilt killed me. Ur a good guy,” Singletary wrote.

Hardwick reacted with anger.

“Steve have completely destroyed my perfect life,” he wrote.

Courtney Singletary and Melissa Hardwick, who had been friends before news of the affair, also traded texts, including one in which Courtney asked Melissa not to participate in a “witch hunt.” Courtney Singletary worried about publicity that would result from the investigation and said it would hurt both families.

She also expressed disappointment about the betrayal and in one text declared, “I loved you like a sister!”

Twitter: @dnicholsonTrib

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