3 disciplined in fake police takedown
The show put on for a couple of Bucs players on a ride-along ended with the plainclothes man being Tasered.
By ABHI RAGHUNATHAN
Published May 20, 2006
ST. PETERSBURG - Police officers staged a mock arrest for a pair of Tampa Bay Buccaneers players who were tagging along last month "to show ... how we conduct takedowns," a Police Department investigation released Friday says.
Instead, the April 26 demonstration showed the Bucs how not to conduct demonstrations when one police officer mistook his colleague for a criminal and stunned him with a Taser gun. So ended Bucs fullback Rick Razzano and defensive tackle Chris Hovan's introduction to police work.
The Police Department disciplined three officers for that mistake Friday after finishing a bureau investigation. Lt. William Sohl, 53, Sgt. Randall Morton, 44, and Officer Robert Kocak, 52, were suspended without pay for a day and received written notifications.
Kocak was the officer who was stunned by the Taser blast. All three are senior police officers in the department with exemplary records, police said.
The demonstration didn't serve any training purpose, the investigation said. The only reason it was put on was for the benefit of the two football players. The Bucs declined to comment, calling it an internal St. Petersburg police matter.
Police Chief Chuck Harmon said he was upset by the incident. He vowed it would not happen again.
"I was disappointed," Harmon said. "I would want people to know this was an isolated incident. ... I think people need to realize this is not indicative of the department."
Harmon said all three officers have personally apologized to him.
The incident began April 26 when Hovan, Razzano and another person named Dave Williams, who knew the players, went on a ride-along with St. Petersburg police officers.
William Proffitt, a spokesman for the Police Department, said the department lets anyone who has a good reason to observe police work ride along with on-duty officers. College students, neighborhood watch members and Buccaneer players - some of whom are active in community activities with police officers - have gone on ride-alongs. The department does about 20 of them a month, Proffitt said.
Most community police officers in the district were working a drug operation on the night of the Bucs' ride-along, the department's investigation said. But a few officers decided to stage a demonstration for the Bucs.
Sohl told investigators that the point of the takedown "was to show the ride-alongs how well the officers worked together and as a means of appreciation."
Kocak dressed in plainclothes to play the role of the prowler. He began yelling and swinging a golf club around 10 p.m. near the intersection of Central Ave and 24th Street. He approached several other officers then ran away from them.
But the police officers did not tell dispatchers to notify their colleagues that they were conducting a mock demonstration. Instead, they talked about the best way to approach the "suspicious person at Central Avenue and 24th Street" on an infrequently used radio frequency, the investigation said.
Two officers nearby drove to that location, and saw Kocak swinging the golf club "wildly in the air." Officer Wesley Callahan ran up to Kocak and yelled, "Taser!" Another officer in the area, who realized Callahan didn't know about the demonstration, hollered, "No!"
It was too late. Callahan fired, and Kocak fell to the ground. He was able to get up and suffered a mild abrasion to the head.
Police say Morton should not have hastily agreed to a demonstration, especially without issuing adequate notification about it. They also say Sohl should not have approved the demonstration and that Kocak should not have decided to do things on the spur of the moment like wield a golf club or run away from officers.
The salaries of the three officers were not immediately available Friday afternoon. Salary schedules show officer Kocak could lose between $146 and $222, Morton could lose between $222 and $271 and Sohl could lose between $268 and $317.
They also lost the chance to impress the Bucs. After his "arrest," Kocak was going to show a "Go Bucs!" sign. He never got the chance.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at email@example.com or 727 893-8472.
[Last modified May 20, 2006, 06:30:14]
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