published: Friday, July 20, 2012
Sparks fly in APPD debate
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
AVON PARK -- Tensions continue to mount in the city as the issue of whether or not to replace the police department with the sheriff's office proceeds through the discussion stage and moves towards a decision, which has to be made by the city council no later than Aug. 4.
The question of providing law enforcement for the city has to do with finances and what the city can afford.
Communication, however, is breaking down between the different interest groups, in some cases being replaced with emotional personal attacks.
For example, Detective Jesse Sapp filed a formal complaint against City Manager Julian Deleon in a letter dated Monday, July 16, written and sent to the city council by his attorney, Stephanie Dobson Webster, deputy general counsel with the Florida Police Benevolent Association.
The complaint, which alleges violations of the city's personnel rules and regulations concerning violence in the workplace and personal harassment, is based on events following the city council's special meeting Wednesday, July 11. It asks the city council to investigate Deleon's behavior, which Sapp characterized as "bizarre and threatening."
The confrontation between Sapp and Deleon was apparently triggered by a question City Councilor Paul Miller asked Deleon in the closing moments of the July 11 meeting, asking why Public Safety Director John King had not been a part of the city team during discussions with the sheriff.
Deleon did not answer Miller's question during the meeting.
He did answer Miller in an e-mail after the meeting, writing that "it was my decision to exclude John King from any Sheriff's negotiations based on ... his willingness to talk about 22 jobs being lost, but not the 9,000 tax payers footing the bill in Avon Park for the 22 jobs he wants to keep ... I opted not to answer your question in public to avoid the public spectacle."
According to Sapp's official complaint, after the meeting he and Deleon had a brief exchange regarding Miller's unanswered question.
It began, Sapp said, with a handshake, "uncharacteristic of any handshake they had ever had before. Mr. Deleon was extremely close to Sapp's person and staring directly into his eyes as if trying to intimidate him."
Sapp said he told Deleon "(Miller's) last question was a tough one, huh?"
Deleon physically crowded him, Sapp said, "(his) facial expression was clearly angry." Sapp added Deleon told him "I don't have to answer to anyone except a judge."
Sapp said he felt Deleon was trying to intimidate and threaten him.
In an email to the News-Sun Wednesday afternoon, Deleon disagrees with Sapp's representation of the incident.
"My recollections of the events differ from Detective Sapp," Deleon wrote in his email. "After the council meeting that evening, I respectfully shook hands with many officers. When I tried to shake Sapp's hand he held onto the grip of my hand and questioned me as to why I refused to answer Mr. Miller's question at the council meeting and I told him I didn't have to.
"He questioned me regarding the same thing, while he was hanging onto my hand, another two times and shortly thereafter he let me go. He made efforts to intimidate me, and physically controlled me as he tightly gripped on my hand, and further pulled me closer towards him. He is physically much larger and taller than me. He physically pulled me in closer to him; he stared down upon me, as I looked directly at his face."
Deleon said his request for sheriff deputies to be present at future council meetings was a direct result of the incident.
He added that Sapp's complaint did not list two city councilors among its list of possible witnesses, Parke Sutherland and Terry Heston, although they were present during the July 11 incident. Sutherland and Heston were both unavailable to comment before press time on Thursday.
Sapp's complaint continued.
He further alleges that Deleon began to walk away, but returned, calling over King, and suggested they all talk about the situation. The three men, along with a few nearby police officers, returned to the city council chamber where the lights were already off.
"Mr. Deleon approached the center of the room, which was extremely dark," PBA attorney Webster wrote in Sapp's complaint. "Mr. Deleon turned to my client and again approached him in an extremely uncomfortable and threatening manner staring directly into his eyes and said, 'bad things happen to people in the dark,' while pointing his index finger directly into Detective Sapp's face ... Sapp felt at that point Mr. Deleon was going to attempt to physically harm him."
Deleon, however, recalled that "the room was pitch black, and I stated the lights need to be turned on, I am concerned about bad things in the dark. Then Sapp started shouting, 'are you threatening me?' Repeatedly."
Allegedly Sapp and Deleon exchanged further words, with Deleon accusing Sapp of disrespect and Sapp advising Deleon his "demeanor and his threats were unwarranted and were causing a hostile work environment."
Sapp claims that Deleon then told him he now understood the citizen complaints he had previously received against Sapp. "Now I have proof myself," Sapp says Deleon told him.
A call made asking for King's recollections regarding the issue was not returned by press time.
Deleon agrees the issue of citizen complaints was raised. He told the News-Sun Thursday it was Sapp's demeanor and behavior toward him that made him wonder if past citizen complaints against Sapp might have "some truthfulness."
"Some very serious allegations have been launched against me," Deleon said Thursday. "I have to defend myself, so I went and requested copies of complaints regarding that same type of (intimidating) behavior."
Deleon said he could find no files of citizen complaints prior to King taking over after former chief of police Mike Rowan was fired. "Citizen complaints prior to John King were not available," he said, adding that it was too soon to draw any kind of conclusions. Written records may exist somewhere; it might only be a matter of finding them.
On the other hand, Deleon said, "It concerns me that a citizen may have filed a complaint without any written record kept."
This is a critical issue, Deleon said, because the state has clear guidelines, timelines and processes regarding citizen complaints, for which the city is responsible.
"Right now I don't know how complaint records, prior to King, are stored, or if they have even been addressed," Deleon said.
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