A partial release of a 3,000-page internal-affairs investigation into a police officer’s videotaped kicking of a handcuffed suspect includes the conclusion that city employees may have erred in judgment, but they did nothing illegal.
“In conclusion, nothing revealed in the investigations of the incidents stemming from the arrest of Mr. Gomez-Perez led investigators to believe that any member of the Sarasota Police Department, (or) employee of the city of Sarasota, including Police Chief Peter Abbott, engaged in illegal, unethical or immoral conduct," the report said.
However, because this was just 34 pages from one of three voluminous reports, City Manager Bob Bartolotta said he was reserving judgment until he reviewed all three reports in their entirety.
“This is just one-quarter of one report,” he said. “I have reached no conclusion yet.”
Members of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office conducted the report at Bartolotta’s request. He wanted an outside investigation of the June 26 incident in which Officer Christopher Childers was seen on videotape kicking handcuffed suspect Juan Perez.
Perez was arrested for disorderly intoxication and climbed out of Childer’s car window at the jail’s booking facility.
When Perez got up off the ground, Childers kicked him in the torso and knocked him back to the ground.
The report finds that Lt. Kenneth Rainey, the department’s on-duty shift commander, erred by not reporting the incident immediately to his superiors.
It also criticized Abbott for contacting city risk-management employee Larry Hobbs to give Perez money in exchange for an agreement not to sue the city.
Hobbs gave Perez $400. The report said Perez, who is Spanish-speaking, was scared during that exchange and did not understand what was happening. Perez thought Hobbs was a magistrate and by signing the agreement, he thought he no longer had to go to court.
The report concluded that Abbott was wrong not to immediately notify Bartolotta of the incident.
Abbott admitted that was a mistake during an interview with investigators and also admitted his error in asking Hobbs to get involved.
“I freely admit that was a poor choice,” he said. “It was a huge mistake on my behalf.”
The report concludes that “the appearance that the police department engaged in unethical and/or illegal conduct became the basis for detractors of the police department’s handling of the matters” and that “Rainey’s delay in reporting the event … was the start of a series of errors.”
But the investigation determined that the delay was not an effort to cover up the incident, and that there was no evidence that the police department tried to obstruct justice.
Bartolotta said despite the conclusions, it was too early to say whether any disciplinary action would be taken.
The city is still reviewing the other two reports, and because state law dictates officers must be informed about any action taken from an internal-affairs report before it’s made public, those reports may not be released for another couple of weeks.
Contact Robin Roy at [email protected].