Tampa, FL – Two Tampa police officers were fired for tossing small amounts of drugs found on suspects into the trash rather than writing a report and disposing of them properly.
The investigation began when a citizen filed a complaint against Tampa Police Officers John Laratta and Mark Landry in September of 2018, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
When investigators reviewed Officer Laratta’s bodycam video in the course of investigating, they discovered that he had violated department policy and turned the camera off just before the interaction with the angry citizen.
That made investigators go a step further and pull up all of the officer’s bodycam footage dating back to May 15, 2018 to see how often he had been turning off the camera, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said they found a pattern of policy violations that included failures to document detentions and searches, failure to properly dispose of seized drugs, inattention to duty, and discourtesy to the public.
Chief Dugan told reporters at a press conference on May 2 that he was initially most concerned about what the officers were doing with the contraband drugs they were taking away from suspects but not booking into evidence, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Investigators drug tested the officers, and then tried to determine if they were selling the drugs or planting them on other suspects.
"We have no reason to believe any of that took place," Chief Dugan said.
Both Officers Landry and Laratta tested clean, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
The chief said the investigation concluded that the two officers just had not bothered to properly document the small drug seizures.
"I think they had a mentality that there were bigger fish to fry," Chief Dugan said. "They were making a lot of big arrests because they weren't documenting the small stuff."
Those officers worked with Officer Algenis Maceo on District 3 street patrol, which covers Ybor City and most of Tampa, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Officers Landry and Laratta were suspended in November of 2018. Officer Maceo was suspended in February, also for actions revealed by Officer Laratta’s bodycam.
All three officers were terminated by the Tampa Police Department on May 2, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
“They have embarrassed our police department," Chief Dugan told reporters. “If we want to have credibility as a department, and I want credibility as chief of police, I have to take these things seriously.”
The terminated officers have 21 days to contest their termination through their union.
“We disagree with the chief's decision to terminate these officers,” Tampa Police Business Association (PBA) President Abe Carmack in a press release. “The Tampa PBA is in the process of reviewing the facts of each case and is prepared to take appropriate action in accordance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement after all circumstances are considered."
Chip Purcell, the attorney for all three of the officers who were fired, said he was surprised by the terminations, Spectrum News reported.
"None of what these officers have been charged with would warrant a dismissal or a termination," Purcell said. "They’re policy violations.”
It's not clear what would cause any officer to get fired other than a policy violation.
Police said the seven-month-long investigation of Officer Laratta’s bodycam video involved the review of 349 separate incidents.
Investigators found that Officer Laratta had violated bodycam policy on 22 occasions, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
As a result of the investigation into Officer Laratta’s bodycam, seven other officers were caught breaking department policies and were disciplined, including letters of counseling and oral admonishments.
The chief said that none of the 10 officers who were disciplined or fired committed a criminal act, but he said they had all violated department policies.