It's a program training people to become law enforcement officers. But now there's concern it is out of control.
10Investigates first uncovered one student's problem with the Law Enforcement Academy at St. Petersburg College. Now we are hearing from others who say it is a much biggest issue.
Former recruit, Lori Mento, says of the program, “It was hard, but I survived.”
We reminded Mento she almost didn’t to which replied, “Ya, I almost didn’t.”
Mento is talking about her injury during training at the Law Enforcement Academy. A 2002 accident report says Mento was hurt when she bumped into a window during a physical confrontation exercise with her instructor Rick Tapia.
However, Mento disagrees with the wording of the accident report explaining, “That never would have happened if I just bumped into a window.”
And when the college investigated the incident it agreed with Mento and determined she was forced through a window. Mento says her leg was sliced open and she nearly bled to death.
“Everybody just panicked,“ Mento said. “The instructor grabbed my leg, got some shirts from the guys and put it on my leg and kept me from bleeding out.”
Mento filed a lawsuit claiming it was known the training's location was dangerous.
But she says the worst part about the whole ordeal was that her instructor got an award for saving her life. The same instructor who she says forced her through the window.
Mento recalls, “They described the situation that I fell out of a plate-glass window and that he saved me from bleeding out and I thought that is wrong, that's not what happened.”
Mento ended up settling for $45,000.
That's taxpayer money! Your money.
Tapia is the same person accused of causing several injuries to Kathleen DeNardi during her training. She says she was forced to box against men twice her size.
We caught up with Tapia as he was conducting a physical training class on the street outside the college.
“She was boxing with guys,” we told him, but Tapia disagreed saying “She was doing light sparing, boxing is over the top, but she was doing light sparing.”
When we showed Tapia the pictures of her two black eyes and noted she ended up in the hospital we told him, “It looks pretty bad there.”
Tapia responded, “Appearance look worse than they are.”
Tapia couldn't say much more because of a pending lawsuit from DeNardi.
Now to Amy Andrews. She filled her own suit against the college after she was hurt in physical training forcing her to abandon a law enforcement career. That suit resulted in $15,000 settlement.
Again - taxpayer money. Your money.
DeNardi’ s attorney, John McGuire, sent this letter to Gov. Rick Scott saying the program is not safe.
McGuire says, “I have asked the governor to suspend the program entirely until this been proven safe for the students with St Pete college protocol.”
Following our investigation, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is reviewing the program.
But it's not just women making these claims.
Robert Bechard was hospitalized twice during his training and didn't graduate. Bechard says, “The program in my personal opinion is out of control and I would say the same thing even if a did graduate. The program's out of control it needs to be shut down revamped it needs to change.”
The college and Tapia say they cannot comment because they have been put on notice that an as the result of DeNardi’ s injuries. Right after our first story we received comments some saying Tapia is a great trainer.
And St. Petersburg College released this statement about the overall program: “During defensive and physical training there are inherent risks as recruits put into practice these skills and participate in demonstrations. In fact, as has been reported, there were two dozen reported injuries in the last five years in the law enforcement academies. The majority of these injuries were minor, and the recruits were treated and returned to class. It is unfortunate that some have chosen to misrepresent this program, which has an outstanding reputation and is nightly respected by the law enforcement community.”