POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd announced the arrest of three Polk County deputies after an investigation into evidence tampering.
The investigation began when deputies John Raczynski, 24, Jamal Lawson, 29, and Garrett Cook, 26, conducted a traffic stop on a woman on Dec. 21 last year in Winter Haven. Upon an arrest on drug charges, the deputies seized the woman’s property, which included $723 in cash.
Three months later and after her release from jail, the woman contacted the Pasco Sheriff’s Office Property and Evidence Section to inquire about a cell phone and some money taken during her arrest. The district in charge of the arrest immediately began an investigation into her missing property.
Detectives turned their immediate attention to the arrest report from that day.
The arresting officer, John Raczynski, documented in his report that in addition to narcotics, “the driver was found to have a large amount of US currency insider her right pants pocket.”
On Dec. 23, Raczynski placed 13 items of evidence in a property and evidence storage locker at his substation, the sheriff’s office said. The money, which he noted existed in his initial police report, was not listed as an item of evidence, nor was it logged in the arrestee’s property at the jail, detectives discovered.
The investigation revealed a supplemental report was created by Raczynski the day after the woman called to inquire about her missing cash. The report added an item of evidence, $723.00, into the “property insert” portion of the report. Raczinski electronically signed the report, and it looked to have been notarized by Cook. The electronic notary was later determined to be fraudulent.
Detectives interviewed a PCSO Property & Evidence Officer who told them that on March 15, Raczynski called her at work and asked her to call him back from her personal cellphone. In that phone call, Raczynski reportedly told her that the money got lost during the arrest and asked if there was something he could do to replace it.
The officer reported the phone call to her supervisor who then called Raczynski’s sergeant.
The sergeant called Raczynski and asked him about the phone call and the missing money. Raczynski reportedly told his sergeant that it got lost and he and Deputy Lawson were going to “make it right” by submitting their own money into evidence to replace it.
The sergeant instructed Raczynski not to take any further action, and an internal criminal investigation was initiated.
Detectives interviewed Lawson on March 19, who gave “conflicting stories” of where the money was placed after it was seized. He also told detectives the three of them discussed a plan to each contribute money to replace it, but that never happened.
Raczynski was interviewed by detectives the same day. Raczynski said Lawson took the evidence while he transported the arrestee to the jail. The following day, Raczynski went to submit the evidence, and noticed that the money was missing. He said that the three of them looked extensively for the money but never found it, and hatched a plan to replace it, splitting the cost three ways.
All three deputies were arrested various tampering with evidence charges and were booked into the Polk County Jail. They have since been released after posting bond.
“I’m pissed,” Grady Judd said.
“They found out getting handcuffs put on you is not near as exciting as putting handcuffs on people who commit crime. But our detectives were really pleased to put handcuffs on the three of them.”
Judd said the sheriff’s office is conducting a thorough investigation and audit every report and arrest the deputies were involved in over their careers with the sheriff’s office. If they find evidence of any other criminal event, “we will go back to your house and we will arrest you again and we will put you in jail,” Judd said.
The sheriff’s office contacted the State Attorney’s Office and requested the charges be dropped against the woman arrested on Dec. 21.
Judd was asked to respond to those skeptical of police and sheriff’s departments.
“There’s always gonna be a few people saying ‘aha, I told you.’ Well let me tell you something. The system worked,” he said. “The checks and balances worked … Every time without exception we find someone that violates the law, we investigate them, we arrest them, and I go a step further: I hold a press conference. I could’ve arrested them and hoped you didn’t hear about it. That’s not what we do here.”
Judd sent a request to the state attorney’s office that any plea deal for the deputies includes time in jail.