FORT LAUDERDALE — No criminal charges will be filed against five Fort Lauderdale police employees who allegedly used a dog to contaminate their colleagues’ food and secretly tape recorded one another’s conversations.
“While the actions alleged are inappropriate and should be dealt with on an administrative level, there are no criminal charges that result from the allegations,” Danielle Croke, a prosecutor in the Palm Beach County State Attorney Office’s Public Integrity Unit wrote in a memo.
But one of the employees involved was fired, three were suspended without pay for varying periods and one resigned for unrelated reasons.
The criminal probe targeted Crime Scene Investigator Stacy Jenkins, who was investigated for alleged wiretapping and culpable negligence. Det. Colin Cowderoy was investigated for alleged wiretapping and lying to Internal Affairs investigators. Sgt. Kimberley Hancock, Det. Kerri Hagerty and Public Safety Aide Julia Horn were investigated for alleged culpable negligence.
Florida law prohibits tape recording people without their knowledge or prior consent and tampering with food could have led to culpable negligence charges.
“To prove culpable negligence beyond a reasonable doubt the State must show evidence of exposure to personal injury or infliction of actual personal injury,” Croke wrote in her Dec. 20, 2010 closeout memo. “There was no proof that the peanut butter was actually contaminated, nor was there any evidence that anyone who consumed the peanut butter suffered any injury whatsoever.”
At least two officers testified they ate from the jar for two weeks until the peanut butter was used up, but those involved in the incident claimed they threw it out before anyone could eat from it.
Nevertheless, Fort Lauderdale police has taken action on its own.
Jenkins has been terminated effective Feb. 28 for secretly recording her co-workers and allowing her dog, “Jack,” to eat out of the peanut butter jar. Even though Jenkins was involved in the incident along with her supervisors, those supervisors received only suspensions.
“The decision to fire her is a knee jerk reaction,” Jenkins’ attorney Bruce H. Little of Fort Lauderdale said. “We intend to go as far as we have to in order to get justice.”
Cowderoy resigned on Jan. 26 for health reasons unrelated to eating the dog tainted peanut butter. The resignation came prior to any disciplinary action being handed down. However, it was not accepted in good standing due to his not giving the department the standard two-week notice. Prosecutors say they were unable to prove he intentionally provided false statements to Fort Lauderdale Internal Affairs investigators.
“Finally, as to count 5, [making false statements] there is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that any reports made to law enforcement were knowingly made falsely,” states the closeout memo.
Hagerty and Horn are slated to serve three-day unpaid suspensions each. Hancock, who was the supervisor in charge the night the of the incident, will serve a 10-day unpaid suspension.
“On January 30, 2010, while you were present, and on duty, you became aware that fellow lower-ranked employees intentionally contaminated a food product which was consumed by members of the Crime Scene Unit, and continued to be consumed, after the contamination,” Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Frank Adderley wrote to Hancock in a Jan. 13 memo notifying her of the suspension.
“You were also present when the discussion among fellow lower-ranked employees focused upon employee conversations being secretly recorded in the Crime Scene Unit without their permission or knowledge by means of a hidden voice-activated recorder. “Although you were aware of the recording activities, it was your supervisory responsibility to ensure that such recording(s) cease; instead, alibis were suggested in your presence in the event the secret activities were discovered,” the memo said.
Hagerty and Hancock are members of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) union which has filed grievances challenging the suspensions.
“There are pending grievances, so I’m not in a position to comment,” FOP President Jack Lokiensky said.
The case was initially sent to the Broward State Attorney’s Office but then Gov. Charlie Crist was asked to reassign it to Palm Beach due to a conflict of interest.
That conflict involved Shari Tate, a prosecutor in the Broward State Attorney’s Office. Tate is married to David Lee Jenkins, a former Fort Lauderdale police detective and the father-in-law of Stacy Jenkins, the police aide who secretly taped recorded her co-workers. Prior to planting the recording device, Jenkins claimed to have discussed it with Tate, a claim that Tate denied to prosecutors.
The case surrounds a Feb. 9, 2010, complaint that Det. Cowderoy, who worked the day shift in the Criminal Investigation Division (CID), filed with Internal Affairs alleging his co-workers on the night shift were secretly recording officers. Cowderoy also alleged those same co-workers had allowed a dog to lap out of a jar of peanut butter which was left for other employees to eat.
Cowderoy said he discovered the practice after his own voice-activated recording device captured the women discussing it. It remains unclear how or why his device came to be left in a position to record their conversations.
Nonetheless, the recording documented the women laughing about the peanut butter caper and devising a story of what they would say if their actions were to come to light. They also are heard saying that the dog had urinated on the desk of another detective in the past.
At one point the women sought edible items specifically belonging to another longtime police officer for the dog to.
After the investigation began, Jenkins turned over other recordings. According to Internal Affairs investigators, those recordings revealed conversations in which the personal affairs of co-workers and supervisors were discussed.
“While this recording was voluntarily submitted by Investigator Jenkins to the Office of Internal Affairs as evidence, it contained unprofessional comments and negative, but non-work related, conversation about fellow employee, including another supervisor,” Internal Affairs Capt. Rick Maglione wrote in his Jan. 4 case summary.
Elgin Jones may be reached at email@example.com