tampabay.com

Crudities around colleague get two cops fired

Other Tampa officers receive discipline in connection with the men's persistent behavior that finally led to a woman's sexual harassment complaint.

By REBECCA CATALANELLO
Published June 17, 2006


TAMPA - Two Tampa police officers accused of belching over their radios, watching a pornographic video at work and habitually joking about homosexual sex were fired Friday following a probe into a female officer's sexual harassment complaint.

Only Officers David K. Duncan, 28, and Ryan D. Sigler, 24, lost their jobs over the charges. But reprimands extended to high-ranking officers as well:

nSgt. Gene Strickland, 49, the squad leader for Duncan and Sigler, was demoted to detective in the forfeiture division for allowing the behavior to continue after witnessing it himself.

nMaj. George McNamara, 46, then-District 3 commander who has since transferred to oversee criminal investigations, received a permanent letter of reprimand. He was cited for "unacceptable delay" in processing internal affairs complaints involving the squad.

nOfficer Gregory E. Cotner, 30, who investigators said "admittedly participated in the sexually charged conversation and horseplay," was suspended for eight days.

Assistant Chief Jane Castor also wrote letters disciplining District 2 supervisors Capt. Russell Marcotrigiano and Lt. Jill Kwiatkowski for failing to adequately address reports about the behavior of Strickland's squad.

"We have an obligation and a duty to protect our officers and our employees, and to ensure that the message is clear," said Maj. Bob Guidara, who replaced McNamara as District 3 commander last fall. "This type of behavior will not and cannot be condoned or tolerated."

Concerns about the officers came to public light after Officer Martha Gearity, 32, filed an internal complaint stating that for eight months on the squad, beginning in 2004, she was subjected to crude and profane behavior by fellow officers.

According to the investigation, the officers, members of a plainclothes squad targeting street crime in east and central Tampa, passed gas and belched over the radio system, sometimes preventing other officers from communicating.

They joked about homosexual sex and bowel movements, continuing even after a supervisor, Cpl. David B. Watt, told them to stop.

Gearity said she learned from another officer that Sigler once stood behind her as she filled out paperwork on the hood of a car and simulated a sex act as Duncan and Sigler giggled.

Guidara said the discipline doled out by police Chief Steve Hogue and his staff will send a strong message to employees, as well as sexual harassment victims, that the force takes such allegations seriously.

Gearity has "shown a lot of strength in this situation," Guidara said. "She allowed herself to be subjected to this behavior for a longer ... time than she should have because she was trying to be like all the other guys. ... It was tough for her to bring this to the surface."

The internal affairs division investigated and disciplined members of the squad on three other matters, including two shootings and an Ybor City traffic stop.

On Dec. 7, 2004, Strickland and Watt were part of an undercover drug sting when a suspect pulled a BB gun. Both officers pulled their guns. Watt fired, but missed. The two were reprimanded for violating policy by using their personal weapons.

And Duncan and Strickland were investigated for a July 10, 2005, incident in which Duncan exchanged gunfire with a wanted man. Strickland was wounded in the leg in that shooting, but received four days' suspension because they tried to arrest the man outside the city limits.

Investigators also found that on April 30, 2005, Sigler, Duncan, Cotner and Officer Sean Stuart violated the department's standard of conduct by trading curses and insults with a subject before Tasering and arresting him when he complained he was being pulled over for being black.

Stuart, who is white, made commented to the driver about being born in Africa. Sigler, Stuart and Cotner were orally reprimanded for that incident. Duncan received a disciplinary note in his file. Strickland was reprimanded for failing to intervene in the traffic stop.