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Longboat Key Monday, Apr. 19, 2021 5 months ago

Former Brooksville chief to fill in as interim Longboat Key police chief

Turner served as a captain for the Longboat Key Police Department from December 2001 through October 2007.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

Longboat Key has selected a former town police department captain  to serve as its interim police chief.

George Turner, the former police chief of the now-defunct Brooksville Police Department, will begin April 30.

“We reached out to different groups including the Florida Police Chiefs [Association], others in the law enforcement community and asked if they knew any retired police chiefs in the area that may be willing to come in,” Town Manager Tom Harmer said. “The Florida Police Chiefs provided us George’s name.”

Harmer said Turner also reached out to the town. Turner was among a few candidates considered to fill the interim police chief role, Harmer said.

“Under the state [Florida Department of Law Enforcement] requirements, if an officer has retired or left an agency more than four years ago, it’s more difficult for them to be quickly recertified,” Harmer said. “And so because he retired and left in 2018, he’s within that four-year mark.”

Turner has more than 40 years of experience in law enforcement, having served as Brooksville's police chief from October 2007 through March 2018 and as a captain for the Longboat Key Police Department from December 2001 through October 2007. He also served as a police captain from 1978-2000 in Ulster County, New York.

Brooksville City Manager Mark Kutney fired Turner in March 2018. Kutney accused Turner of illegally releasing information in a news release about a homicide in the city. Turner disputed the accusation and filed a federal civil lawsuit in April 2018 against the city.

The Brooksville City Council voted in November 2018 to settle the case with Turner, which paid him tens of thousands of dollars.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement records also show Turner’s departure from the Brooksville Police Department is described as “retired, not involving misconduct.”

Harmer provided recommendation letters from former Brooksville City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha, former city attorney Thomas Hogan Jr. and former city council member Lara Bradburn advocating on Turner’s behalf.

“Receiving that feedback from those that he as active with, why he was there and then the new manager came in, and was part of the transition to close down their police department and contract with the county for sheriff services,” Harmer said.

Harmer said he had also spoke with Kutney and Norman-Vacha about Turner. Many years ago, Harmer and Kutney worked together in Brevard County.

In June 2018, the Brooksville City Council voted to abolish its police department. The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office now handles law enforcement duties for the city of Brooksville, about 60 miles north of Tampa.

“He was terminated publicly, and he challenged that because it was listed as for cause and ultimately, the settlement and the city agreed to take back the for cause,” Harmer said. “And, so that was, as I understand, talking him and to the city manager, that was his position that he did not feel that he did anything wrong, and it was really tied more to this transition and everything going on it with it.

Harmer said he expects Turner’s duty to last about six months. Turner will receive $4,400 every two weeks with no benefits during the duration of his tenure.

Turner is a resident of Manatee County, has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from State University of New York and is a graduate of the National FBI Academy.

Harmer said the town has not started advertising to find a full-time police chief since the March 31 announcement of Kelli Smith’s resignation. Smith will officially resign as police chief on April 30.

Editor's Note: This story has been corrected to reflect Longboat Key Town Manager Tom Harmer and Brooksville City Manager Mark Kutney previously worked together in Brevard County.

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Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

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