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Police officer takes his sleuthing skills to East Timor
By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 7, 2000
NEW PORT RICHEY -- Financially speaking, the lost stripes never stopped hurting Bill Lawless' family.
When Sheriff Lee Cannon demoted the highly decorated 12-year deputy from sergeant to road patrol in March 1998, it meant a $3,200 salary cut. When Lawless transferred to the New Port Richey Police Department last July, his annual pay dropped another $6,000.
Now, Lawless will be spending the next year working for a United Nations-sanctioned firm operating in East Timor, struggling to gain its bearings after winning independence from Indonesia last year.
Lawless will perform civil investigations for DynCorp, a Virginia company, and take home $101,000 tax-free dollars for the year's work, said his wife, Chris Lawless. Without that extra income, she said, the family won't be able to make its mortgage payments. There are also two boys to support, 14 and 10 years old.
"They've been through a lot these past two years," she said. "It was hard for (Lawless)."
Her husband left this week for jungle training in Australia, she said, and from there he will go on to East Timor.
The country's vote for independence in August touched off a rampage by pro-Indonesia militias and military troops that resulted in widespread destruction, along with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of deaths.
(Among the survivors of that violence was Tom Kinsella, a retired Pasco sheriff's deputy who served with the peacekeeping force monitoring the election. A Times story last September detailed his experiences.)
The U.N. will administer the country during its transition to independence.
Capt. Darryl Garman of the New Port Richey Police Department said Lawless' resignation from the agency became official last Sunday. Lawless is leaving on good terms, Garman said, but if he wishes to rejoin the agency on his return, he will have to reapply.
Chris Lawless said her husband's plans after the East Timor mission are uncertain.
During his stint as a Pasco sheriff's deputy, Lawless investigated the 1991 death of Hudson cabinetmaker John Deroo, which helped win the conviction of Berry Kessler in a murder-for-hire scheme.
The state supreme court ordered a new trial for Kessler last year; before he left, Lawless gave videotaped testimony that will be played at the trial, which is expected to take place this year.
Sheriff Cannon stripped Lawless of his sergeant's stripes in 1998 for failing to apologize to Circuit Judge Joseph Donahey Jr., whom Lawless criticized in a letter to the Times. Lawless is suing Cannon, saying his First Amendment rights were violated.
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.