Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Officer's Conduct Prompts Response

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Officer's Conduct Prompts Response

Article excerpt

KISS: Department penalty, but no criminal charges, after youth's claim

NORTH PORT -- A North Port Police K-9 officer who kissed a 16- year-old girl faces unpaid suspension and probation for the act but will not be criminally charged, Police Chief Kevin Vespia said.

In April, the teenager and her father reported to the North Port Police Department that she was kissed by Officer Shawn Rice against her will. According to the department's investigation reports, the teenager alleged Rice kissed her on the lips four separate times in January.

The incident comes as North Port's Police Department is under scrutiny for the conduct of its officers. After reportedly sexually assaulting a woman at a party in May, two North Port officers faced sexual battery charges. One of the officers, Ricky Urbina, killed himself as police were en route to arrest him. Charges were dropped against the other officer, Melanie Turner, who resigned from the force.

An investigation by the Herald-Tribune published in June found that problems went far beyond that case, documenting how the North Port department had ignored serious infractions and allowed repeat offenders to remain on the force.

In the latest case of misconduct, the girl told police that Rice, who was 32 at the time, kissed her for the first time in his bedroom on Jan. 2. A few weeks later, Rice kissed her three times on the same day, twice at his home and again at another officer's house.

At least one of the alleged incidents was corroborated by a 17- year-old girl and a 20-year-old man. All three were members of North Port Police Department Explorer program. Rice is an adviser for the program, which is for youth interested in law enforcement careers.

In addition, the 17-year-old girl was employed as a babysitter by Rice. She and the adult male were at Rice's home when one of the incidents reportedly occurred. Neither said they witnessed Rice kissing the girl, but the adult male said the girl told him and the babysitter when they left Rice's house. …

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