- June 10, 2020
A Longboat Key police officer found to have taken pictures on his personal phone of a body involved in a fatal traffic crash in May has been suspended with pay as the department investigates his fitness for duty, prompting a review of the town’s hiring process, according to town officials.
Officer Jeffrey Houchins, a 48-year-old who’s been employed by the department for three years, is undergoing mandatory evaluation and and investigation by an outside party as part of his suspension from the department, which will be lifted only if the officer is found fit for service, said Police Chief Pete Cumming.
While there is no law against taking photos of deceased individuals while on the job, Cumming called the behavior “a boneheaded move.”
“This was a bad judgment call,” Cumming said. “He did what he did, and we’re handling it immediately”
This incident prompted Town Manager Tom Harmer to review the town's background-checking process when hiring new employees. Harmer said the hiring process will undergo a review in its entirety.
“This [incident] gives you the pause to say ‘How are we really doing this,’ “ Harmer said.
The Longboat Key Police Department became aware of Houchins’ behavior May 10, two days after two vehicles hit and killed Warren Roberts on Gulf of Mexico Drive. Cumming said Houchins had taken photos of Roberts’ body and showed them to his wife, who called the chief to inform him of the incident.
Cumming said he called Houchins into his office within two hours of receiving the phone call to counsel him about what he had done wrong. That counseling included the chief telling Houchins that what he did was wrong and that the next time it happens, it could lead to termination.
Lakeland Police also became concerned when Houchins similarly showed graphic images on his phone to an plain-clothes officer while waiting for a 2015 job interview.
Longboat Key's new backgrounding procedure will require applicants to reveal agencies at which they've applied in the last 12 months.