Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Putnam Sheriff Corruption Focus of Two Whistleblower Cases: FBI Investigating, Sheriff JEFFREY HARDY Retiring

2nd Putnam deputy files whistleblower suit
Posted: August 12, 2015 - 11:42pm

By Dana Treen
A fired Putnam County deputy who said he has been questioned in an FBI probe of the sheriff’s office command staff has filed a whistleblower lawsuit over his dismissal last year by Sheriff Jeff Hardy on that issue and others, including a separate one for reporting what he saw as misconduct by another deputy involving a sexual encounter.
Larry Sapp’s June suit is the second whistleblower action filed against the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office this year. In an earlier case, Deputy Matthew Griffin in March filed a suit over what he said was another deputy’s tipping off the subjects in a burglary case for sex.
Both suits describe a culture of favoritism within the department that shelters some.
“These guys both saw wrongdoing in the sheriff’s office and reported it as they should have,” said Jeremiah Mulligan, a St. Augustine attorney representing the men. “It’s pretty basic retaliation.”
The sheriff’s office said it fired Sapp in November after eight years as a deputy and detective over his lying to a superior about a hunting issue.
Stolen fridge sale
In the suit filed in Putnam County, Sapp said he was contacted by the FBI in December 2013 about the investigation of an unidentified city commissioner’s wife buying a stolen stainless steel refrigerator.
The commissioner had been a contributor to Hardy’s election campaign and the city was negotiating with the sheriff about taking over policing duties if the city police department was abandoned, the suit said.
Sapp was one of the detectives in the stolen property case and questioned the wife and a second woman who said they were buying the appliance for $60. The suit said the women went to the site of the burglary to make the buy and were being questioned later about whether they knew it was stolen. During the interview a bag containing pills was found and suspected to be part of the payment.
A second deputy wrote up a drug possession charge and took the pills.
That deputy was later told to abandon the charges “and the pills simply ‘disappeared’ from the evidence room,” the suit said. And Sapp was told a cellphone given to him voluntarily by one of the women had to be turned over and would be returned to her.
The deal to take over police duties by the sheriff’s office never materialized.
Shortly after Sapp spoke to the FBI, the sheriff’s office began a quarterly download of agency cellphones, which Sapp said in the suit is how he believes the sheriff learned he had spoken to the FBI agent. The agent is not identified in the court case.
Sapp said the FBI wanted to know about the burglary case as well as the “conduct and practices of several high-ranking command officers,” including Maj. Gary Bowling, who suddenly left the agency in early 2014. The sheriff’s office said later in March 2014 he left to attend law school, according to the suit.
Hardy, who said he is not running for sheriff in 2016, would not discuss the lawsuit Tuesday because it is still pending, his office said.
But earlier this year, he said that an FBI agent had been at the sheriff’s office to investigate complaints.
Hardy said he had not been questioned by the FBI but was willing to cooperate.
Search tipoff
In a case filed earlier by Griffin, a family being investigated for burglaries in April 2014 was apparently tipped off that the sheriff’s office was planning to execute a search warrant, his suit said. When deputies arrived, most of the stolen items they expected to find were not there. They were later told by suspects in the case that they had been warned that the raid was coming and that one suspect had talked about the possibility of having sex with one of the detectives.
Griffin and another deputy contacted superiors with concerns about the leak, but were told they would be arrested if they discussed the case and in June 2014 were ordered to sign confidentiality agreements.
In a second case in Sapp’s suit, he was working an off-road mud-bogging event called Hog Waller in January 2014 when an intoxicated woman asked for help finding her campsite. When Sapp tried to assist the woman but had to attend to something else, another deputy took over. Sapp later learned the deputy had sex with the woman, the suit said.
Sapp reported what he thought was “reprehensible” behavior as well as a possible crime because the woman was intoxicated.
Within a week he said his job was threatened and he was told that he would be “micromanaged,” the suit said.
Sapp transferred to a bailiff’s job and remained there without trouble until September, when an unnamed person made a public inquiry into the case involving the stolen property and tip-off to the suspected family.
Sapp had also been a witness to that case, though he was not involved in reporting concerns about misconduct to the command staff.
An investigation into the possible misconduct was kept on hold but an inquiry was opened on Griffin, who was put on administrative leave for referring to a woman as a confidential informant in a court hearing when she was a potential informant, the suit said.
Mulligan said the charge was nothing more than a pretext to fire Griffin, who had been with the Sheriff’s Office for five years and had been assigned as a detective.
Griffin was fired in September.
Sapp was fired in November after his patrol car was spotted in a wooded area. When a captain with the sheriff’s office approached the car, Sapp came out of the woods and said he had been talking with hunters. He left but the captain stayed and found a hunting crossbow, jersey with Sapp’s name on it and folding chair in the woods.
Sapp returned later while the captain was still there.
He was fired after accusations were sustained that he lied about why he was in the woods and having permission to be there despite having a letter from the landowner, as well as hunting without a proper bow hunting license and discussing the administrative review of his case with other deputies who served as bailiffs.
Griffin’s case is scheduled for an Aug. 31 hearing on a motion to dismiss, Mulligan said. No hearing date has been set in the Sapp case.

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