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Longboat Key Friday, Apr. 30, 2021 7 months ago

Former captain begins tenure as interim police chief

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

Longboat Key interim Police Chief George Turner says his familiarity with the town of Longboat Key helps in his return.

Turner, 64, previously served as a town police department captain.

“I really had a hands-on feel of what the officers deal with every day in Longboat Key and had that interaction with both the public, the residents [and] the visitors,” Turner said.

Friday marked Turner’s first official day in the new position as he takes over for outgoing Police Chief Kelli Smith, who resigned after six months to accept the police chief position at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers.

Turner has more than 40 years of experience in law enforcement. He served as the police chief of the now-defunct Brooksville Police Department from October 2007 through March 2018, and he was promoted to captain while working 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, and accused the former police chief of illegally releasing information in a news release about a homicide in the city. Turner said Kutney gave him two options.

“He gave me two letters, one to resign or the other he was going to terminate me for cause,” Turner said. “When I asked him what the cause was, he wouldn’t tell me, which is not due process, obviously.

“So when he finally did give me a letter, his letter was that I released witness information on that homicide, which was not true.”

Although Turner said he did not personally write the department’s news releases, he took responsibility.

“That was such a devastating thing to be saying about a 40-year career law enforcement officer that I released witness information, which is against the law and I would never do,” Turner said. “So, I refused to resign, and I took him to task on it.”

Turner disputed the accusation and filed a federal lawsuit in April 2018 against the city. In November 2018, the Brooksville City Council voted to settle the case with Turner. It paid him tens of thousands of dollars.

The Brooksville City Council voted in June 2018 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.

Turner called the whole Brooksville situation “dirty politics.” He oversaw up to 30 people in his department. Several of them also lost their jobs.

In Brooksville’s first year paying the sheriff’s office to serve as the area’s law enforcement agency, Turner estimated the city saved about $1 million.

“The only reason that they tried to get me to resign was because then I was giving up three months [of] severance pay,” Turner said.

Turner estimates it would have been about $30,000.

State records also show Turner’s departure from the Brooksville Police Department is described as “retired, not involving misconduct.” Turner said Brooksville also withdrew the for-cause termination.

Longboat Key Town Manager Tom 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.

“I had a great career in Brooksville,” Turner said. “I’m very proud of all the accomplishments that we made there.”

Turner said he’s ready to start his new role in Longboat Key.

“To have the citizens actually say that they are happy with the services that Longboat Key police provide, which I already know they are already, but I just want to continue that,” Turner said. “I also want to, as I said, the accreditation is important to the town manager and to the town and to the citizens, so I want to move them in that direction.”

Turner said he had not discussed the possibility of becoming Longboat Key’s permanent police chief with Harmer.

“I know he wanted to hire an interim and not discuss [the] permanent, long term [position],” Turner said. “And my response to that was, ‘I’m here for as long as you feel that I fulfill your job requirements.’” 

Harmer estimated Turner will serve as the interim police chief for about six months, but did not provide a specific timespan. 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.

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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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