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Friday, May 6, 2011

Police Try To Rebuild as Corruption Investigation Continues

Windermere police try to rebuild as corruption investigation continues
The Orlando Sentinel by Henry Pierson Curtis - May 6, 2011

Cop with lengthy arrest history wants to remain

Many of the old faces are gone as the Windermere Police Department rebuilds in the midst of its ongoing corruption scandal. A year ago, 24 officers policed the town. Now, only 10 of those remain. The exodus began before former police Chief Daniel Saylor's official-misconduct arrest and dismissal in January but sped up after Mike McCoy took command vowing to clean up the department — starting with the officers. An Orlando Sentinel report in May 2010 found that Windermere had become known for hiring cops other agencies considered untouchable because of crimes or other questionable behavior in their pasts. Nearly half the force, including Saylor, had worked for larger forces and been fired or resigned while under investigation. New background checks that McCoy ordered for every current officer are still being conducted by the Orange County Sheriff's Office. Since his appointment in February, McCoy has fired two officers, accepted three resignations and hired two replacements. "Every community police department is different, but what never changes is the absolute mandate for integrity, kindness, follow-through and reliability of its officers," McCoy said recently about the department he is creating. "… People depend on us every day to do the right thing and protect them." The Florida Department of Law Enforcement continues to investigate accusations of corruption, including ticket fixing, bribery and improper use of police computers, as well as the disappearance of drugs, guns and money from the Police Department's evidence locker. "Until they complete their investigation, I won't know which officers will be remaining," said McCoy, who added that officers still may face administrative investigations and possible termination.

New background checks ordered

All 10 of the remaining Windermere officers were hired by Saylor. Nine of them have reapplied and filled out new background-check forms hoping to keep their jobs. The only current officer who didn't reapply was Lt. John C. Hein, who served as the department's shooting instructor and conducted background checks and other administrative duties for Saylor. Records show he was charged with domestic violence in 2000 and the case was later dropped. Four of the nine other officers wrote in their background forms that they had never been arrested, had not resigned while under investigation by other agencies and only smoked marijuana in their teens or early 20s as their only form of drug abuse. The others were Lt. A.J. Mueller Jr., who pleaded no contest in 1998 to misdemeanor battery; Officer Jason Darnell, who admitted he left a previous agency "under unfavorable circumstances"; Detective Gene Powell, who resigned from the Lake County Sheriff's Office before an investigation involving charges of writing bad checks that were later dismissed; and Officer Robert German, who was charged with disorderly conduct in Orlando in 2004 — a case later dismissed. The new background form for one current Windermere officer stands out — because of the lengthy criminal history attached. Officer Gregory Beasley has been arrested at least nine times on drug, weapon, disorderly conduct and theft charges since 1990 and is a former member of the Warlocks Motorcycle Club, according to court records in Orange, Polk, Seminole and Volusia counties. State law permits those not convicted of a felony or a crime involving lying — such as fraud — to become a cop, deputy sheriff or corrections officer, no matter how many times they have been arrested. But several local law-enforcement hiring officers said they would not have hired someone with Beasley's criminal history. "This is beyond my comprehension," said Orlando police Deputy Chief Gene Bernal — who oversees the recruiting unit — when told of Beasley's five drug arrests and multiple driving offenses. "I always ask, 'Is this the kind of person you'd want patrolling your neighborhood? … If I told my mother, would she be OK with it?" Saylor hired Beasley in 2009 after his original application listed one of his personal references as Saylor's then-girlfriend, Longwood Assistant City Manager Patrice Murphy. She did not respond to three requests for comment. Three of Beasley's arrests involved felony charges, but he either pleaded guilty to a lesser misdemeanor crime or the felony was dismissed and the case was closed, records show. Still, Bernal and other officials said they would not hire Beasley, considering his past crimes and affiliation with the Warlocks. "You have to draw the line in the sand somewhere," said St. Cloud police Chief Pete Gauntlett, who requires every prospective hire to undergo a polygraph examination to ferret out secrets and past misbehavior if they exist. When Beasley joined Windermere, he claimed on his sworn application that his arrest history contained two charges — driving without a license and possession of a small amount of pot — 20 years earlier. On his new application, mandated by McCoy, Beasley attached his criminal history listing most of his arrests — including growing marijuana and carrying a concealed weapon. A 1994 arrest in Polk County on a grand-theft charge was omitted. On the form, Beasley also admitted past membership in the Warlocks, which the U.S. Department of Justice lists as an "outlaw motorcycle gang." "When he got hired as a police officer, I was really surprised," former Lake Mary police Sgt. David Preiser said. "Every time we stopped him, he seemed to have drugs." During a 1996 arrest, Preiser drove 95 mph to catch up with Beasley's speeding van, then discovered Beasley had been drinking and found marijuana and a loaded .32-caliber pistol within reach of the driver's seat, records state. "On the way to jail [he told me] he could shoot me between the eyes at 30 yards with that pistol," Preiser wrote. Beasley did not respond to two requests to be interviewed. Saylor remains under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement after being charged with official misconduct, giving unlawful compensation for official behavior, bribery of a public servant, solicitation to commit official misconduct and solicitation to tamper with evidence. His lawyer Mark NeJame has not responded to requests for comment. or 407-420-5257

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