• Report: Retired cops with disciplinary pasts work at schools

    By: TESS SHEETS, Orlando Sentinel

    Updated:
    ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Retired Orlando Police Department officer Dennis Turner sparked a furor when he arrested two 6-year-old students while working as a school resource officer at Lucious & Emma Nixon Academy in September.

    As details emerged of Turner's history - including a child abuse arrest in 1998 - some questioned why he was allowed to work as a school resource officer.

    Turner was part of OPD's Active Reserve Unit, which is made up of retired officers who pick up shifts to plug staffing gaps. Records obtained by the Orlando Sentinel show Turner, who was fired days after the incident at Nixon Academy, was not alone among the unit's officers in having a troubled history.

    At least five of the unit's 37 current reserve officers have been arrested, accused of crimes including possessing a short-barreled shotgun, stalking, grand theft and vehicle title fraud. At least two of those five were disciplined by the agency for breaking the law; another stood trial twice for stunning a suspect who was handcuffed to a hospital bed, but avoided conviction or discipline.

    A sixth reserve officer was suspended for sending pornographic messages through an Orange County Public Schools email address.

    In an interview, OPD Chief Orlando Rolón said reserve officers are an "asset" to the department because they help beef up staffing for cheap. Rolón said he reviews officers' disciplinary histories before bringing them back as reserves, adding he wouldn't keep someone at OPD "who we don't believe can perform their duties to the fullest." OPD declined a request for a second interview with Rolón after the Sentinel unearthed the arrest histories of several officers on the unit.

    OPD's policy for its reserve unit allows the chief of police to decide whether or not to approve a former officer to join. In order to be eligible, a retired cop must have served at the department for 10 consecutive years and must have retired in good standing. Officers on the unit can take jobs for a variety of businesses, from nightclubs to schools.

    The reserve unit's importance to the agency has grown since a 2018 change to state law requiring an armed officer at every public school in Florida. OPD's 2018 annual report called the unit, which contributed more than 42,000 hours to the department that year, "instrumental in covering a large portion of the staffing hours now required in (c)ity schools."

    - Records show discipline, arrests

    Reserves have the same authority as full-time officers, wear the same uniform, carry a gun and have all the same training, including for use of force, firearms and conducting criminal investigations. A log of the unit's assignments for six weeks in September and October, obtained by the Sentinel through record requests, showed a snapshot of the jobs reserves work on a regular basis: at schools, Lynx bus stations, hospitals and the airport.

    Officer Charles Wadley, who worked school security at Hillcrest Elementary School during the six weeks reviewed by the Sentinel, was arrested and charged with owning an illegal gun in 1996, which came to light after he told other officers that he shot and killed a cat in his neighborhood because he believed it was a nuisance. A short-barrel shotgun was found during a search of his home, leading to a second-degree felony charge.

    Wendell Reeve, another reserve officer, was arrested that same year on a stalking charge, accused of harassing a female OPD officer with repeated phone calls, pages and strange comments.

    The woman told police Reeve would show up while she worked patrol and once asked if he could "hug and hold" her while she worked. When she was in the hospital for a lung issue, the woman said she woke up to Reeve standing at the end of her bed, and he told her he had been there about 30 minutes watching her and her husband sleep.

    The attorney who represented Reeve on the stalking charge, Marc Lubet, said Reeve "believed at all times that he was acting only as a friend" and that the woman never said she wanted him to leave her alone. The outcome of his criminal case also remains unclear, as records related to the charge are no longer available.

    Reeve was fired from OPD following an internal investigation of the stalking allegations, records released by the city on Friday show. The records indicate Reeve sought arbitration for his termination, and he apparently won back his job. He retired from the agency in early 2019 as a Master Police Officer, according to a post on OPD's Twitter.

    Most of Reeve's extra duty assignments during the six weeks in September and October were at Orlando International Airport.

    Another reserve officer, Keith Gibson, was arrested in 2006 in a vehicle-title scheme, in which he was accused of working with tow truck company operators to sell vehicles at an inflated price by falsely verifying that the vehicles were whole, according to Sentinel reports. He was charged with two counts of title fraud - felonies carrying maximum prison sentences of 10 years- and two misdemeanor charges of giving false official statements, court records show.

    Gibson pleaded not guilty to the charges, and they were later dismissed by a judge. He and OPD Officer Larry Kamphaus, who was also charged in the scheme, were handed 240-hour suspensions- the maximum allowed under the agency's contract with its union- after an Internal Affairs investigation.

    Gibson's extra-duty jobs during the six weeks included working security at Bishop Moore Catholic High School, traffic and security at First Baptist Church, at a Lynx bus station and at St. James Cathedral School near Lake Eola.

    Reserve Officer Peter Linnenkamp was arrested in 2005 after he was accused of using a stun gun on a suspect who was strapped to a hospital bed at Orlando Regional Medical Center. The suspect, Antonio Wheeler, had refused to give a urine sample at the hospital, where he was brought after he was accused of stealing cocaine, and medical staff thought he might be under the influence.

    Wheeler was secured with leather straps and handcuffed to the bed as hospital staff attempted to insert a catheter, police said at the time. Linnenkamp said Wheeler was thrashing around and tried to headbutt him when he climbed on top of Wheeler to try to calm him down, so he "administered the Taser discharge upon Mr. Wheeler in order to get him to release his penis so that the catheter could be inserted," the Sentinel reported.

    In a lawsuit filed against the Police Department, Wheeler's attorney likened the shock to "torture." Linnenkamp was arrested on two misdemeanor battery charges: one for jumping up on Wheeler's chest and another for the tase. He was found not guilty of the first charge, but two juries deadlocked on the second, resulting in mistrials, and prosecutors ultimately dismissed it.

    Wheeler won $150,000 in a settlement with the city.

    During the six-week period reviewed by the Sentinel, Linnenkamp worked two shifts at Nemours Children's Hospital in Lake Nona: one on Sept. 20 and another on Oct. 16. He also worked at Lake Eola Charter School, the Orange County Public Library in downtown Orlando and the Amway Center.

    A fifth reserve officer, James D. Ray, was arrested in 1996 on a grand theft charge. Most records related to the incident are no longer available, but Lubert, who was also Ray's defense attorney, said in an interview Ray unknowingly stole tickets to an event that were ordered by another officer with the same name. He said the tickets, which were valued at more than $300, were mistakenly put in Ray's mailbox at OPD and he thought he had won a contest, so he used them.

    The charge was later dismissed by prosecutors.

    Turner was suspended 16 hours after his 1998 aggravated child abuse arrest by Apopka police, who accused him of causing welts and bruises on the arms and chest of his then-7-year-old son. The charge was dropped as part of a pretrial diversion program. Turner was later suspended in 2015 for using his stun gun on a trespassing suspect five times - twice while the man lay on the ground.

    Officer Dennis Turner, recently fired after arresting two 6-year-old kids, stunned a trespassing suspect five times during this February 2015 incident.

    Asked why Turner, given his history, was allowed to work at a school, Rolón said the company that hires a reserve officer is ultimately their employer and has the ability to choose whether or not to work with that officer.

    "If we have a situation where an officer is questionable to work in a given area, then I think that's an issue. ... Maybe that person should not be working for the Orlando Police Department," he said.

    - Policies ‘not meant to punish'

    Another current reserve, Kevin Barnes, was disciplined in 2011 while working as a truancy officer after the department discovered he had sent lewd emails to school resource officers using his Orange County Public Schools email address, WFTV-Channel 9 reported. Barnes was suspended 40 hours for sending the emails, some of which were pornographic.

    During the period reviewed by the Sentinel, he worked five shifts as a school resource officer at Washington Shores Elementary.

    In 2016, reserve officer David McKinnon was suspended eight hours after he conducted on off-duty chase of a group of suspects who he saw stealing electronics from a Best Buy on West Colonial Drive. As he was chasing them along Clarke Road, the suspects crashed into another vehicle when they failed to stop at a red light.

    When the suspects fled on foot, investigators said McKinnon yelled for them to "get on the (expletive) ground or I'll blow your brains out," records show. He didn't have a gun and eventually restrained the suspects in zip ties. McKinnon, who was a reserve officer at the time, was found to have violated agency policy. He is still working as an active reserve for OPD.

    When reviewing candidates' discipline histories, Rolón, who was named Orlando's police chief in October 2018, said he considers whether an officer has corrected his or her past behavior after a violation.

    "As you're going through an evaluation of someone who has asked to be part or remain with the department as part of the reserve program, then you have to take into account, when did that happen? What was the performance of the officer after?" Rolón said.

    The agency's discipline system "is not meant to punish people," he said, adding that, if an officer's violations did not rise to the level of being fired, it's important to see how the rest of the officer's career played out.

    "Policy is meant to fix something that was not done appropriately," Rolón said.

    At least one current reserve officer was fired during his tenure at OPD, records show.

    Eugenio Bernal, who is a sergeant in the reserve unit, was fired in 1991 when he was a full-time sergeant for disclosing to fellow officers test questions that would be on the sergeants exam, records show. He was hired back by the agency after he appealed his discipline, but demoted to the rank of officer. He eventually rose up the ranks at the department to deputy chief, before later becoming the chief of police in Eatonville.

    Bernal resigned as Eatonville's chief in 2015, saying then-Mayor Anthony Grant was attempting to tarnish his reputation after Grant alleged the police department was taking bribes from former Eatonville mayor Bruce Mount, who Grant had narrowly defeated. Grant was later convicted of voting fraud for coercing voters into submitting absentee ballots.

    - Reserves an asset, chief says

    Rolón said reserves became especially important after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Soon after the massacre, legislators mandated that all public schools in the state have an armed officer on campus.

    In order to meet the new staffing needs, OPD opened up its extra-duty program to allow charter schools to hire off-duty officers, including reserves, as security, Rolón said.

    Turner violated OPD policy by arresting the two 6-year-olds at Nixon Academy and failing to get approval from a watch commander, as was required to arrest someone younger than 12, the agency has said. OPD has since changed its policy to require the approval of one of its four deputy chiefs before an officer can arrest someone under that age.

    The reserve unit falls under the agency's Special Services Bureau, which also oversees the patrol unit, airport operations and extra-duty coordinators. Reserves are required to work at least 12 hours per month and can sign up for private security jobs for pay, which can earn them anywhere from $33 to $45 per hour.

    The unit is an asset to the agency, Rolón said, helping ensure officers are where they're needed at a fraction of the cost of hiring more full-timers.

    "When considering the average officer for, say, the SRO program is $150,000 for pay and benefits ... that's not counting a vehicle, that's not counting the mobile computer terminal, we're talking $30,000 (or) $35,000 more, easy," Rolón said. "(Reserves) are supplementing the demand for ... officers to work for the private sector."

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    Information from: Orlando Sentinel, http://www.orlandosentinel.com/

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