When the police chief’s phone rings at 2 AM, the news usually isn’t good. Every parent can relate to that feeling when their children are out and away from home. Every time a chief answers his or her phone or responds to a call on his radio, the message received may be catastrophic.
The men and women who wear the badge are prone to the human frailties which affect us all. Departments across the nation pride themselves in putting new hires through a battery of physical and psychological testing prior to them being hired and placed into one of the highest positions of trust within our society.
That testing and the interview processes are sometimes not enough to ferret out the demons which may bubble to the surface after a period of time. It could take decades or maybe only a few months, but eventually a flawed profile will expose itself, either on the job or at home.
Marco Island Police Chief Al Schettino grappled with a myriad of issues since assuming command of the agency in 2014. Upon taking charge he found a command and staffing structure in disarray due to poor morale, inadequate training and over a dozen Internal Affairs Investigations (IAs) which had been shelved and never followed up on by previous administrations.
Reorganizing the Department
One of Schettino’s first actions was to begin a reorganization of the various bureaus within the department and clean up the process. Over a dozen investigations were closed out after review and the department would implement a process to hold officers accountable as well as following the protective provisions of the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights.
Officers Dismissed for Conduct Unbecoming and Neglect of Duties
For outgoing Chief Schettino, having a father contact him about an ongoing illicit relationship between his daughter and officers under his command was probably one of the toughest issues he’s ever had to deal with in his long and distinguished career in law enforcement.
When the reports reached Schettino’s desk regarding the last year’s scandals involving two patrol sergeants, an immediate investigation was launched. It was a painstaking process in which the Collier County Sheriff’s Office provided forensic downloads of electronic devices for pertinent evidence.
Both officers, Sergeant James Inlow and Sergeant Neil Giansanti chose to offer their resignations when confronted with the evidence. During the downloads of those devices further evidence was discovered that may have implicated Officer Kevin Hennings in those illicit actions with the same female. He has denied those charges, but was terminated for what were considered violations of the department’s General Orders and Conduct Unbecoming of an Officer.
Going One Step Further
Under Chief Schettino’s leadership, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was requested to withdraw the law enforcement certifications held by those officers. Although that action was initially resisted by Giansanti, he would voluntarily surrender his certification. That same agency, after a hearing requested by James Inlow would recommend the withdrawal of his certification based upon Schettino’s request.
Brady Cop Issue
Because some of the complaints and issues were created over 18 months prior to Schettino’s arrival, little could be done because no action had been taken, or no investigations begun. Some officers could not be exposed to further disciplinary actions due to provisions within the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights. This is a provision under Florida State Statute 112.532 which serves to protect both police and correctional officers. It requires that action be taken within 18 months of discovery of the violation, otherwise action against an offending party cannot be taken.
That same Florida law also provides for the process to be used during investigations regarding an officer’s conduct, where an investigation could lead to disciplinary action or termination. It therefore provides another layer of “due-process,” for an officer being accused of wrong-doing, either by his own department or a member of the public lodging a complaint.
The State Attorney’s Office (SAO) made Schettino aware of an officer who they had placed on their “Brady List” years ago. That list is found throughout the state and across the nation. It identifies officers found to be untruthful regarding one or more cases.
Unfortunately for the department, this officer never had appropriate discipline applied within the 180 days prescribed by the Officer’s Bill of Rights, as detailed in Chapter 112 of the Florida State Statutes.
When former Chief Donald Hunter was advised of the officer being on that list by the SAO, Hunter placed him in the Investigative Bureau. The assignment of the officer in that position had the potential of compromising all those cases under investigation that he would have exposure to. Hunter was also familiar with that officer, having terminated him for untruthfulness when he worked under Hunter in Collier County.
Once it was brought to Schettino’s attention, he immediately removed the officer from the Investigative Bureau to protect the integrity of other cases under their jurisdiction.
Schettino would immediately order the opening of an internal affairs investigation after his meeting with the SAO, which resulted in a finding against the officer. However, no action was allowed due to the expiration of the time limit under Florida Statutes, Chapter 112. Schettino sought advice from the city’s legal staff, who advised deferring further action which would hamstring him from removing the officer from the department; all of this prior to City Manager David Harden’s arrival in Marco.
Inquiries by Schettino to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement regarding why the officer’s certifications were not pulled were also deflected due to the issues regarding the provisions under Florida Statutes, Chapter 112.
Harden Requests Schettino’s Resignation
During a late February meeting with Interim City Manager David Harden, both of the above issues were cited, as well as a negative editorial in a Naples publication which called for the dismantling of the local department and returning those services to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.
Schettino was prepared to review the situation regarding the “Brady Officer” issue the morning of his meeting with Harden and seek permission to proceed with dismissal of the officer by the new manager.
At that time Harden appeared to have no interest in dealing with that issue, instead asking the Chief to take the time to consider his request for his resignation.
Schettino pondered the request by the manager during the next several days and chose to tender his intent to retire from the department by June of 2019, which Harden accepted.
Schettino then presented Harden with the department’s internal investigation paperwork and his recommendation to place the involved officer on administrative leave until Schettino’s recommendation for dismissal was acted upon by the manager. Only the city manager may fire an employee.
Approximately 70 days later, Harden would accept Schettino’s recommendation. Harden, however, would provide a provision in his formal notice of dismissal to the officer that offered a “civilian job” within the city when and if one became available. No further movement on the issue has occurred.
Search for a Replacement
The city entered into a contract with the STARS Program of the Florida Police Chiefs Association to seek a replacement for Chief Schettino. It is a program similar to the Senior Advisor’s Program of the Florida City and County Management Association, where senior advisors with associated experience are brought in to assist a municipality in finding senior staff personnel to fill vacant positions. That program brought about the hiring of Michael McNees, Marco’s newly-hired City Manager, who begins his position on July 1.
Over 80 applicants applied for the Police Chief position, and that list was initially reduced to a dozen. That list has subsequently been brought down to five finalists.
They include the following:
- Captain John Crane-Baker, Delray Beach Police Department/Delray Beach, Florida.
- Deputy Chief Tracy Frazzano, Montclair Police Department/Montclair, New Jersey.
- Chief Anthony Giaimo, Florida Southwest College Police Department/Fort Myers, Florida.
- Deputy Chief Stephen McCosker, Ocoee Police Department/Ocoee, Florida.
- Assistant Chief Terrence Pierce, Gainesville Police Department/Gainesville, Florida.
The five finalists will be interviewed on June 6 and 7. Harden is hopeful they will have an acceptable replacement onboard by July 1.
Under the provisions of the Marco Island City Charter, the City Council is only allowed to participate in the hiring and supervision of two individuals: The City Manager and the City Attorney.
Newly-hired City Manager Michael McNees will join with David Harden in interviewing the candidates, as well as several senior law enforcement professionals and a few citizens from the city.
Administrative Captain David Baer will oversee the operations of the department until a new chief is hired and comes on board, which may extend into the month of July. McNees, comes aboard as city manager on July 1st and David Harden will remain for the month of July to help with his transition.
Schettino Will Leave a Void
“This is sort of like losing a member of your family,” said Bill Miller, a longtime reserve officer with the department and a friend of Schettino.
Former City Councilor Bob Brown reflected on his six years on city council and the interactions he had with Schettino, praising his professionalism. “His effectiveness and ability to get the job done without seeking the limelight was probably one of his greatest assets. His immediate response to protect the children of this community after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida in February of 2018 was a perfect example of that.”
Schettino was again called upon to react to an incident this spring at a synagogue that involved another senseless shooting and loss of life. He immediately contacted the Jewish Congregation of Marco Island and assigned extra security as a precaution against “copy-cat” crimes.
Dianna Dohm, Executive Director of the Marco Island Chamber of Commerce, commented that business owners would be losing a supporter and friend. “Chief Schettino’s leadership in working within the community will be sorely missed,” said Dohm.
Schettino could be found at many of the local city and charity events, and was well known throughout the community. He built alliances between law enforcement agencies within Southwest Florida, and prided himself in creating strong relationships with both the City of Naples and the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.
Schettino served on non-profit boards, such as the Shelter for Abused Women and Children of Collier County, protecting some of the most vulnerable of our citizens.
Although a ground swell of support came forward when news of Schettino’s situation became public, the die had already been cast, and no support came forward from the dais.
On Friday, May 31 Schettino quietly left the building after turning in his city equipment and hardware, proud of his service over the last 10 years here on Marco and his total of 42 years in law enforcement.
Steve Stefanides, well-known by his nickname “Stef,” is an experienced award-winning reporter of local civic and public interest news. Stef’s More Straight Talk column (and its predecessor, Straight Talk), on a variety of subjects, is a favorite of readers who trust him to bring them the facts. A Marco Island resident, Stef contributes to the community in many ways, having served on a number of city committees, charitable groups, boards and local organizations. Contact him by email at Stef@coastalbreezenews.com