An investigation found Kenneth City Sgt. Jim Rieser violated department rules multiple times.
By ANNE LINDBERG
Published September 7, 2003
KENNETH CITY - A 13-year police veteran was fired after an internal investigation concluded he had violated department rules multiple times during the past two years.
Sgt. Jim Rieser allegedly ordered an officer to ignore lawbreakers, reprimanded subordinate officers in public, regularly used profanity and yelled at employees, and failed to set a proper example for underlings. Rieser's last day was Aug. 16.
"It's just been an ongoing problem that reared its ugly head," Kenneth City police Chief Jim Ernst said Thursday.
Rieser on Friday said he was appealing the decision and could not discuss specifics, but he conceded he had made some mistakes and thought the penalty was too harsh.
"I'm not an angel. I lost my temper," Rieser said. "Each of these instances occurred, but not to the extent they're putting it and not for the reasons they're putting it. ... There's officers that have done things a whole lot worse than losing their temper and saying f--."
Rieser said he is being singled out for his activism and for pointing out problems with the department.
The department's shortcomings are so severe, he said, that he now regrets having worked to preserve the local force a few years ago when town officials considered turning police duties over to the Pinellas County sheriff. Rather than getting better, he said, the situation has gotten worse.
"The services to the community just aren't there anymore," Rieser said. "This city is not getting the police protection, in my opinion, that they are paying for. ... That's why I am being singled out."
Rieser, 50, had worked for the Kenneth City department since Oct. 15, 1990, according to town records.
He had risen to second in command and acted as an interim chief a few years ago after the departure of Jeff Walkowiak. Last year, Rieser was transferred from administrative sergeant to patrol sergeant, making him third in command, Ernst said. He was earning about $45,310 a year.
Rieser said Friday he and Ernst had discussed many of the incidents as they happened but that he had never been written up for them. Rieser said he thought those incidents were in the past.
But officers continued to complain about Rieser's actions, and Ernst brought in Lt. Mike Quill, retired from the Gulfport police, who took sworn testimony from all 11 of the town's police officers, a man whom officers had arrested and from Rieser.
Among the allegations made during the officers' testimony:
Rieser told officers not to enforce city rules and state laws because he was busy doing other things.
Rieser shouted and cursed at subordinates in front of other officers, people who were being arrested and members of the public. The shouting and cursing were so common, officers called it "being Rieser-ized."
Rieser backed Cpl. Brian Fey against a wall and repeatedly jabbed Fey's chest with his finger as he made his points.
Rieser told Officer Shawn Heffner if he did not keep quiet, he would "rip your tongue out of your mouth and nail it to the bench."
Rieser would make arrests, then assign them to subordinate officers.
A majority of officers lacked confidence in Rieser as a supervisor and leader.
"If I'm so terrible, if I did all of this to such an extent ... why was it allowed to build up over a period of three years?" Rieser asked. "They're painting me to be the bad guy."
Ernst agreed the problems were longstanding. In the Aug. 15 memo informing Rieser of his termination, Ernst wrote:
"The results of this investigation show a continuous and longstanding problem with your demeanor, lack of professionalism, uncontrolled use of anger and profanity not appropriate for a law enforcement officer .... Previous efforts at remediation of the problems you have in dealing with your fellow officers, especially subordinates, have failed to correct the misconduct identified."
Rieser's appeal will go before a trial board comprised of officers of equal or higher rank from officers outside Kenneth City. It is unclear when that will happen.