9 members of Lakeland police K9 team suspended for speeding up to 101 mph

Image from Lakeland PD dashcam video

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Nine members of Lakeland Police Department’s K9 team have been suspended for speeding up to 101 mph when traveling home from a K9 competition.

According to documents released by the police department, members of the Lakeland Police Department K9 Unit traveled to Santa Rosa County, Florida to compete in the United States Police Canine Association Regional Field Trials on February 23, 2017.

On March 3, eight of the nine officers drove in a caravan back to Lakeland. That night, Lakeland Chief of Police Larry Giddens received a phone call at 7:53 p.m. from Emery Gainey, who works at the Florida attorney general’s office.

Gainey said that he was on Interstate 10 and saw Chevy Tahoes that had the Lakeland Police Department insignia and the K9 lettering driving in a “caravan” type configuration at a speed in excess of 80 mph.

After speaking with Gainey, Chief Giddens then immediately called K9 Unit supervisor, Sgt. Aaron Peterman who was traveling with the unit. He told Peterman to make the officers “slow down.”

On March 10, Chief Giddens then ordered an internal affairs investigation to find out if members of the Lakeland Police Department’s K9 Unit violated department policy.

The following department members were part of the administrative investigation:

  • Sergeant Aaron Peterman
  • Officer Ryan Back
  • Officer Jeff Barrett
  • Officer Cory Bowling
  • Officer Virgil Cardin
  • Officer John McLaughlin
  • Officer Travis Miller
  • Officer Chad Whitaker
  • Officer Jeremy Williams

The Office of Professional Standards completed its investigative report, which revealed that seven officers and Sgt. Peterman, while driving back from Santa Rosa County, at times reached speeds of up to 101 mph where the posted speed limit was 70 mph.

During the investigation, it was revealed from video footage recovered from Officer Barrett’s in-car camera system, while in the City of Gulf Breeze, he was traveling 84 mph in an area with a posted speed of 45 mph.

The Lakeland Police Department’s marked police cars are equipped with an in-car camera system. One feature of the camera system enables it to automatically begin recording when the vehicle speeds reach 75 mph.

When questioned, five of the officers – Cory Bowling, Virgil Cardin, John McLaughlin, Travis Miller and Chad Whitaker – admitted to filling up their in-car camera system’s SD cards specifically to prevent recordings of their travels to and from the trials.

The officers said they did so to avoid personal conversations between each other and their passengers from being recorded. Additionally, they stated the constant audible beeping and flashing lights of the monitor in record mode would be distracting to their driving.

“They filled up the memory, they just let the camera run prior to leaving, so that memory card would be filled up,” Sgt. Gary Gross told News Channel 8. “They also had their girlfriend, fiancé, with them. They were talking to each other kind of like on walkie-talkies as they went up there in this caravan. So for seven almost eight hours, they don’t want that conversation recorded.”

Officer Jeremy Williams was using a spare K9 vehicle outfitted with an antiquated camera system which did not have the automatic recording feature mentioned above.

The other three officers’ cameras recorded as designed.

Based on the data from the cameras and all of the officers’ truthful admissions, it was determined all nine members of the K9 Unit did speed at some point and violated LPD General Order titled Speed Limits and Lights: Special Considerations.

The five officers who filled up their memory cards were also found to have violated the department’s General Order of Improper Conduct and Conduct Unbecoming.

“This is a hard-hit for the agency, for the Lakeland Police Department. They’re embarrassed, as well as everyone who had to deal with this. We’ve worked hard to build a reputation up,” Sgt. Gross said.

According to investigators, all of the officers involved in the incident were truthful in their interviews and readily admitted to violating the policies. During their pre-disciplinary hearings, each officer was remorseful and acknowledged that their individual actions reflected unfavorably upon the department and cast the agency in a negative light.

Chief Giddens released this statement:

I am embarrassed and very disappointed by the actions of these officers. We hold every member of this police department to the highest standards and expect them to represent our agency with an exceptional level of professional conduct at all times. Although each officer involved has taken full responsibility for their actions, they cannot take back the embarrassment placed upon this agency and their fellow colleagues.

As law enforcement officers we must always respect the enormous amount of trust the public has placed in us and we must lead by example. In this specific incident, these officers have failed and they will be held accountable through the use of our disciplinary policies.

 

The Lakeland Police Department members listed below received the following punishments:

  • Sergeant Aaron Peterman, Age 41, 17 years of service, Annual Salary of $79,887: 16.8 hour suspension for violation of G.O. 19-2.2 Speed Limits and Lights Special Considerations, G.O. 3-1.14 Conduct Unbecoming and G. O. 1-4.1 Supervisor Duties
  • Officer Ryan Back, Age 44, 19 years of service, Annual Salary of $68,886: 8.4 hour suspension for violation of G. O. 19-2.2 Speed Limits and Lights Special Considerations and G.O. 3-1.14 Conduct Unbecoming.
  • Officer Jeff Barrett, Age 53, 31 years of service, Annual Salary of $68,886: 8.4 hour suspension for violation of G. O. 19-2.2 Speed Limits and Lights Special Considerations and G.O. 3-1.14 Conduct Unbecoming
  • Officer Cory Bowling, Age 37, 17 years of service, Annual Salary of $68,886: 16.8 hour suspension for violation of G. O. 19-2.2 Speed Limits and Lights Special Considerations, G.O. 3-1.14 Conduct Unbecoming and G.O. 3-1.13 Improper Conduct
  • Officer Virgil Cardin, Age 51, 8 years of service, Annual Salary of $51,725: 16.8 hour suspension for violation of G. O. 19-2.2 Speed Limits and Lights Special Considerations, G.O. 3-1.14 Conduct Unbecoming and G.O. 3-1.13 Improper Conduct
  • Officer John McLaughlin, Age 30, 5 years of service, Annual Salary of $53,018: 16.8 hour suspension for violation of G. O. 19-2.2 Speed Limits and Lights Special Considerations, G.O. 3-1.14 Conduct Unbecoming and G.O. 3-1.13 Improper Conduct
  • Officer Travis Miller, Age 30, 7 years of service, Annual Salary of $51,725: 16.8 hour suspension for violation of G. O. 19-2.2 Speed Limits and Lights Special Considerations, G.O. 3-1.14 Conduct Unbecoming and G.O. 3-1.13 Improper Conduct
  • Officer Chad Whitaker, Age 32, 12 years of service, Annual Salary of $59,985: 16.8 hour suspension for violation of G. O. 19-2.2 Speed Limits and Lights Special Considerations, G.O. 3-1.14 Conduct Unbecoming and G.O. 3-1.13 Improper Conduct
  • Officer Jeremy Williams, Age 30, 6.5 years of service, Annual Salary of $49,233: 8.4 hour suspension for violation of G. O. 19-2.2 Speed Limits and Lights Special Considerations and G.O. 3-1.14 Conduct Unbecoming.

Each officer will also undergo officer safety and awareness training focused on the dangers of speeding. Five of the officers are eligible to receive annual merit increases, but the raises will be denied for one year and all officers will not be considered for promotional opportunities for one year, per city policy.

“One of these guys that’s going to equal up to over $3,000 because of that merit increase. That’s a pretty significant hit,” Sgt. Gary Gross said. “This will be a far reaching into the future for them. One of them is going to lose his opportunity to be promoted. He was next on the list.”

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