Belleair Police Chief under fire by one of his own - WFLA News Channel 8

Belleair Police Chief under fire by one of his own

Posted: Updated:
BELLEAIR, FL (WFLA) -

Belleair Police Chief Thomas Edwards is the target of numerous allegations ranging from mismanagement to ethical breaches and possible criminal acts.

The person making those allegations is his department's only detective James Howard.

According to records obtained by 8 On Your Side, Howard first approached Belleair Town Manager Micah Maxwell in July 2013 to privately voice concerns about Edwards.

Among those concerns: destruction of criminal evidence, the changing of police reports by people other than the officer on the scene, and the Edwards' alleged pressuring of Howard to conduct background checks without having any particularly case to attach it to, a practice Howard insists is considered improper by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Maxwell summarized the concerns Howard first voiced in July 2013 in a letter that he sent to the chief the following day.

The chief essentially ended up investigating himself, found no wrongdoing, and that was that.

Last month, Howard sent Maxwell an eight page letter detailing some of the same issues he raised last year and adding some new ones, including the chief's alleged personal dealings with a known prostitute and other "troubled women," and his use of a city issued unmarked car to make traffic stops without properly identifying himself, something that Howard claims raised concerns among motorists.

He also detailed how the chief insisted on buying new speed radar equipment and ordering officers to issue speeding tickets in a school zone, tickets that later turned out to be illegal because it was summertime and according to Howard the school didn't qualify as a school zone because it was only a day care center.

Howard insists the chief was reluctant to correct the matter by withdrawing the tickets until someone threatened to go to the media.

On August 16 Maxwell hired a consultant, a private attorney from Port St. Lucie, to investigate Howard's allegations, eight days after 8 On Your Side began requesting public records related to the case.

The consultant is charging the city $225 an hour for his work. Maxwell expects a final report this week, possibly as early as Thursday.

Meanwhile, Maxwell and the town attorney are asking everyone involved to keep quiet about the matter and to avoid any interviews with 8 On Your Side.

Chief Edwards was unavailable for comment Tuesday but later indicated he would speak to 8 On Your Side about the matter as soon as the city's consultant report is complete.

Belleair Mayor Gary Katica agreed to an interview early Tuesday afternoon, then cancelled, and later called back to tell 8 On Your Side that Edwards is a "terrific chief who is well-loved by the community."

"He's an honorable man," Katica said.

Katica doesn't believe any of the allegations raised by Detective Howard will be borne out and attributed them to "an upset employee."

Howard's allegations, said Katica, "Are a bunch of BS."

Copyright 2014 WFLA. All rights reserved.

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