Officers want to clear names
By CHRIS TISCH, Times Staff Writer
CLEARWATER -- At the very least, two former Clearwater police officers have been accused of shaming their badges by having sex with a civilian while on duty. At worst, they have been accused of rape.
But the former officers say none of the allegations, from top to bottom, is true. They think the evidence proves their innocence.
In their first public interview since they resigned last month, former Clearwater police officers James Mehr Jr. and Anthony Pearn said they feel betrayed by the Clearwater Police Department, police Chief Sid Klein and the police union.
Through it all, they say, their wives and families have supported them. That includes Mehr's father, a retired Clearwater police officer; and Pearn's wife, a forensic scientist for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Both officers are trying to rescind their resignations, which they say were coerced by police department and police union officials. Police and union leaders deny any coercion occurred.
Neither man wants to work again for the department. They just want to restore their reputations, they said.
"It's totally untruthful ... and we just want to clear our names," Mehr said.
The men are accused of having sex with a mentally ill woman at her Clearwater Beach home in April 2000. The officers went to the woman's home that night because she had threatened suicide. She suffers from manic depression and has more than a dozen suicide attempts and hospitalizations in her past.
The woman claims the officers took her into a bedroom and had sex with her, then left and returned twice more that night for more sex.
The Times is not identifying the woman because she claims to be the victim of a sex crime. Klein has said he thinks she was the victim of a sexual battery. He thinks the officers used their positions of power to force the woman to acquiesce to sexual activity. Prosecutors said there is not enough evidence to file criminal charges against the officers.
The woman's attorney, Steven Loewenthal, is negotiating with city officials on a possible settlement for the woman based on civil rights violations. He says if a settlement can't be hammered out, he will sue.
Mehr and Pearn, both five-year Clearwater police veterans, say they did go to the woman's home to check on her welfare that night, April 14, 2000. Police records show the officers were at the home for 63 minutes. They did not write a police report about the call.
They took that long, they said, because they had to talk to the woman and determine she would not harm herself. They also said the woman is chatty, taking a long time to answer questions.
They did not write a police report, they say, because they didn't find evidence the woman would kill herself.
Both officers deny any sexual contact ever occurred. They also say they never returned that night.
"This is all out of left field for me," Mehr said.
So who is lying?
While the woman says Mehr and Pearn are lying, they say she is the one being untruthful. They accuse her of either making up the story to get money from the city, or of fantasizing about the sex.
"I think she fantasized about the whole thing," Pearn said.
Perhaps the most damning evidence against Mehr and Pearn: Things the woman knew that she supposedly couldn't know about them -- unless she had seen them not wearing uniforms.
She said Mehr has a Winnie-the-Pooh tattoo on his right shoulder blade. When internal affairs investigators asked Mehr how she could know that, the only explanation he could offer was that she perhaps had seen him shirtless on the beach while he was off-duty.
Mehr now says the fact that he had the Pooh tattoo was well known on the beach. His nickname is Pooh-Bear, which comes from the tattoo. Though he never told the woman about it, he's sure she could have learned about it from the many people who know him on Clearwater Beach.
The woman also said Pearn wore "black and white leopard skin bikini brief underwear."
When internal affairs Sgt. Ron Sudler questioned Pearn about his underwear, his answers became a powerful piece of evidence against him. But Pearn now says a close examination of that quid-pro-quo shows he was misinterpreted.
This is how that part of the interview went:
Sudler: "Okay. Do you normally wear boxer shorts or briefs?"
Pearn: "Kind of whichever. I got tons of different kinds. Boxer, briefs, boxer-briefs."
Sudler: "Okay. Do you wear printed or colored undergarments?"
Pearn: "Kind of whatever."
Sudler: "Have you ever worn a pair of leopard print briefs while on duty?"
Pearn: "I doubt it."
Sudler: "Do you own a pair?"
Pearn: "I may. I don't know."
Sudler: "Well, you would know what's in your underwear drawer. Is that a yes, or a no?"
Pearn: "I probably do. Yeah."
Sudler then moves on to another subject, asking Pearn about the times he responded to the woman's home on police calls. He never brings up the subject of underwear again with Pearn.
Investigators interpreted Pearn's answer to mean he did own a pair of leopard print briefs. But Pearn now says that his last statement on the subject -- "I probably do" -- was an answer to the question about whether he knew what was in his underwear drawer, not whether he owned leopard-print briefs.
"That was definitely misinterpreted," Pearn said last week. "I don't own a pair of leopard-skin underwear."
His wife, Laura Pearn, says she has never seen her husband wear a pair of leopard-skin briefs. She said she washes his clothes and would know.
"I think I would know if he was wearing underwear like that to work," she told the Times last week.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents, who investigated the woman's claims criminally, tried to polygraph her, but couldn't because of her mental problems.
Mehr and Pearn told the Times last week that they probably would be willing to take a polygraph, though they worry that the stress of the last several months may have an adverse affect on the test. Their attorney, Bob Walker, said he planned to pursue the possibility of arranging a polygraph examination of his clients.
Mehr is a third-generation Clearwater police officer. His father is a former detective sergeant with the department.
"That's all I ever wanted to do was be a Clearwater police officer," he said.
He has a wife and a 9-week-old son at home. He hasn't found a job since his resignation. He says publicity over the allegations have hurt his search for work.
Pearn said he didn't want to talk about his current employment situation.
Police department officials say there was enough evidence to sustain departmental charges against Mehr and Pearn. That includes statements by neighbors who saw police vehicles at the woman's home for long periods of time; and the woman's knowledge of the officers and their work shifts.
The woman has no criminal history, police said, though she acknowledges having a crack cocaine problem when some of the incidents are alleged to have occurred.
Clearwater police spokesman Wayne Shelor said the department stands by its investigation.
"Everybody is comfortable with the scope and the professionalism and the integrity of the investigation," he said.
-- Chris Tisch can be reached at 445-4156 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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