Fired Recruits Took Part in Profanity, Misconduct; Union Head Calls Their Behavior Not Unusual in a Work Setting

Article excerpt

Byline: JIM SCHOETTLER

A seedy tale of sexual misconduct, profane jokes and other inappropriate behavior at the Jacksonville police academy led to the firings of six recruits, including the woman who filed the initial complaint, according to an internal investigation.

The five men and one woman were fired Friday, a day after they graduated from the academy. As graduates they remain certified officers who can seek police work elsewhere.

Sheriff's Office officials said the behavior showed a lack of integrity and they worried about how those involved would interact with the public. The president of the police union said the rookies were salvageable and should have been only reprimanded.

Administrative charges of unbecoming conduct were sustained against recruits M.F. Gresham, J.R. Adams, D.J. Johns, T.J. Brown, T.J. Reimer and Holly Ward, according to the 80-page internal report. Ward's first name was the only one of the six listed in the report.

Three other recruits were cleared of wrongdoing.

The investigation began a month ago after Ward complained to her academy instructor that she had been harassed by several classmates and that one had groped her during a drill nearly five months earlier. The instructor told internal affairs and said he was unaware of any inappropriate behavior.

Investigators found no witnesses to the touching allegation, while a number of recruits described inappropriate physical contacts and other misconduct by Ward. Ward told investigators she partook in sex-related comments with some of her classmates, but denied the allegations that she otherwise acted inappropriately.

Investigators interviewed the class of about 40 recruits and learned that Ward and the others were involved in what Sheriff John Rutherford and other administrators deemed unbecoming conduct. Rutherford approved a recommendation by Director Rick Lewis, head of professional standards, that the six be fired.

Lewis said sex-related jokes were made in class settings, though it's unclear how many times that occurred. He described the statements as crude and offensive. The lead recruit told investigators he heard repeated jokes about gays and having sex and "told the class to tone things down," the report said.

Five of the six recruits admitted to making such jokes. The sixth recruit, Adams, was accused of whistling "Here Comes the Bride," directed toward Ward and another recruit. He was also accused of paying a recruit $5 to ask Ward if she was having sex with another recruit, the report said. …