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Siesta Key Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011 10 years ago

Committee spars with police lieutenant

by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

The Police Complaints Committee’s Aug. 23 meeting began cordially but ended with a verbal sparring match between committee members and Lt. John LeBlanc.

LeBlanc, who heads up the police department’s Internal Affairs and Complaints Unit, took offense at a suggestion from committee member Frank Brenner.

Brenner proposed the committee discuss reading brief formats of police reports.

“It’s hard to get from Point A to Point B in a report that has a myriad of pages,” Brenner said.

LeBlanc, who was visibly agitated, told Brenner he had serious issues with giving committee members anything other than the actual reports written up by officers.

“You want a slimmed-down version of a report summary,” LeBlanc said. “But to come to the right conclusions, you have to read the entire file.”

LeBlanc questioned the purpose of the complaint committee if its members were only going to read summaries of detailed officer reports.

“I strongly disagree to this suggestion,” LeBlanc said. “Why do we have these meetings if we are just going to base decisions on summaries?”

But Brenner and other board members said they had every intention of continuing to read the entire police reports they were given.

“A summary would only help us figure out who is who when sifting through a report that has hundreds of pages,” Brenner said.

Peter Graham, the city’s Police Advisory Panel administrator, said he would begin placing short summaries at the top of reports given to committee members, in an attempt to guide members through those reports.

Earlier in the meeting, the committee reviewed four investigations, including an internal investigation that involved a police officer claiming that he drove around the city for nine days earlier this year with a vital piece of evidence rolling around the floorboard of his squad car.

The Feb. 13 complaint reveals that an officer failed to submit property into evidence in a timely matter.

“I’m trying to get into the officer’s head here,” Brenner said. “The officer had a bloody wooden table leg that was a vital piece of evidence in an assault case rolling around in his car. This could have severely compromised the prosecution’s case.”

The officer also attempted to backdate the piece of evidence when he submitted it and failed to submit a supplemental report explaining what happened to the evidence.

LeBlanc explained the department issued the officer a written warning and if a repeat violation occurs within the next three years, more severe punishments, such as a suspension, can be issued. Once the three-year warning expires, the officer’s record will be clean again.

Brenner, however, was upset with what he perceived as an easygoing punishment.

“This was completely and absolutely sloppy on the officer’s part,” Brenner said. “In my view that should be on his record forever, and I am troubled by the outcome of the discipline.”

In another case, an officer gave a motorist a citation for driving 80 mph in a 20 mph zone and for not stopping at stop signs.

But the squad car’s video camera and a subsequent investigation showed that the motorist could not have been going that fast and that there were no stop signs in the area where the motorist was pulled over.

The officer received a seven-day suspension and a written warning for his actions.

“I find myself wondering what’s in this officer’s head that would cause him to perform his job the way he did that night,” Brenner said.

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