Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan fired three officers Thursday morning and disciplined seven others after a lengthy internal affairs investigation.
The investigation started with a citizen complaint in September of 2018. The complaint alleged that Officers Landry and Laratta physically threatened a person they were investigating.
Officer Laratta is equipped to carry one of 60 body-worn cameras currently used by the Tampa Police Department. When supervisors went to examine Laratta’s body camera check out the complaint, they discovered Laratta had a habit of turning off his camera during investigations.
“We started reviewing several instances and noticing a pattern of Laratta disabling and manipulating his camera,” said Chief Dugan.
Further investigation revealed the officers were seizing small amounts of marijuana and then just disposing of it, instead of arresting the person with the marijuana or issuing them a citation, depending on the amount involved.
“They were taking the marijuana and disposing of it, not writing reports, they were not issuing citations, they were not making arrests,” said Dugan.
Initially, the Chief says he was concerned with what the officers were doing with the marijuana.
“If they were taking marijuana from someone, what were they doing with it? Were they using it? Were they selling it? Or, my biggest concern – were they planting it on somebody? We have no reason to believe any of that took place. Their drug tests were clean, we’ve received no complaints of planting narcotics on anyone,” said Dugan.
Still, Dugan says the officers were not following procedure and their actions raised significant questions about their credibility.
“When you look at all three of them, the number of violations, they are no longer competent to do their job,” said Dugan.
The chief fired the officers after meeting with them Thursday morning. Shortly after their terminations, Dugan held a news conference to announce what had happened.
“It was very disturbing to meet with them this morning. I was very angry. To have to stand here before you and explain this is just an embarrassment for me. They have embarrassed the police department. They have placed the community’s trust in jeopardy,” said Dugan.
In addition to the officers’ terminations, two supervisors were disciplined for failure to enforce department rules and policies. The police department said Edwin Bodamer was demoted from sergeant to master police officer, and Corporal Eric Wilkinson received a written reprimand.
The officers involved have the right to appeal their firing.