Fired deputy on trial accused of stealing pain pills from work

Officials are facing a growing problem of officers becoming addicted to painkillers.

Officers under the influence.  One attorney says some of the people who are supposed to be protecting our streets are addicted to pain pills.

Fired Pinellas County Sheriff's deputy, Steven Smith, is on trial for stealing hundreds of hydrocodone pills from work and pawning his service gun.   

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri claims it's part of a painkiller-induced downward spiral for Smith.

The former deputy argues he's being targeted for questioning department policy.

10News is asking local agencies what’s being done to keep officers and deputies drug-free.

“Do you guys take prescription drugs here?  I have a lot of them,” a woman tells Deputy Steven Smith on a new video played for the jury.

Pinellas County Sheriff's investigators say it shows Deputy Steven Smith accept 8 bags, 71 different pill bottles as a woman drops off her dead sister's unwanted prescriptions at the North Pinellas substation.

Prosecutors say after the woman leaves, the deputy puts some 300 hydrocodone pills in his lunch bag and takes them out to his squad car.

“You purportedly find the pills and a baggie of pills that previously were introduced as a photograph in this case,” defense attorney John Trevena asks.

“Yes,” says the former deputy’s ex-girlfriend, Jessica Jimenez.

After a nasty break-up, Jimenez says she uncovered the pills with the dead woman's name on the bottle in Smith's drawer at their home.

Jimenez says she sent the picture to the sheriff's office and put the pills and Smith's stuff out on the front porch, kicking him out.

“Were you scared of Steven if you kept them,” the prosecutor asks.  “Yes, because of his aggressive behavior with the prescription pills he was currently taking,” Jimenez responds.

Smith claims he was targeted after being involved in a shooting.  He also says he came under fire from supervisors for raising questions about the sheriff's mandate to stop-and-question 30 people per month.

“If I'm guilty of anything, it's having a backbone,”  Smith has tells 10News.

Smith's attorney says the deputy had been taking pain pills after back surgery and allegedly isn't alone.

“He was having legitimate medical issues.  It’s surprising the Sheriff’s Office has members on patrol that are under the influence of opiates.  It became apparent that sheriff's office was working with Stephen with regard to his use of medications for back surgery and problems he had.  There’s no policy in the sheriff’s office that they pull these people and put them on light duty.  They can remain out on the streets even under the influence,” says Trevena.

Late Thursday afternoon, jurors also heard Smith's taped confession to his pain pill addiction.  The fired deputy now claims he was coerced by investigators, who apparently said admitting it would make it easier on Smith to get help.

The prosecution wrapped up its case on Thursday.  The defense argued that the case should be dismissed.  The judge is taking that under advisement, and will make a decision on Tuesday.  That’s when the trial is scheduled to resume.

Smith is still facing charges for pawning his service gun, but that case will be heard in Pasco County.

This trial made us wonder how do other area departments do their drug screening?  All of the departments that responded do random drug testing, except Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, where Smith worked.  St. Pete Police doesn’t screen for prescription drugs.  Tampa Police is still looking into it.  We also uncovered Pinellas County only does a drug test in order to get hired.

Here’s the information from the departments that responded:

Tampa Police Department:

--They generate a “blind” schedule list and conduct a random drug test every month.

--There isn’t advanced warning, when you are called upon for a drug test, you have to leave immediately to provide a sample.

--There is a list of drugs that he lab tests for, including Illegal drugs and alcohol.

--TPD is looking into whether the department tests for pain killers.

--If an employee or officer tests positive, they are given an opportunity to provide documentation from a doctor or some other form of explanation. If that does not suffice, the case is sent to Internal Affairs for an investigation. 

--Staff can be fired for use of illegal drugs.

St. Petersburg Police Department:

--10 random sworn personnel are tested each month.

--Prescription drugs are not tested for.

--If an officer tests positive The Office of Professional Standards will conduct an investigation and the Command Review Board will determine the corrective action.

--Personnel are asked to complete a questionnaire at the test site and list any prescription drugs they are taking in case it causes a positive test result for some type of narcotic.

Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office:

--All staff is tested prior to being hired. 

--They’ll be tested at all required medical examinations, possibly after work-related accident or injury.

--No less than semi-annually for at least 2 years on any employee who comes back to work after successfully completing a drug rehab program

--They are all subject to random screenings, and when there is reasonable suspicion.

--They test for “at minimum” Amphetamines, Barbiturates, Benzodiazepines, Benzoylecgonine, Cannabinoids, Cocaine, Fentanyl, Methaqualone, Methadone, Meperidine, Opiates, Oxycodone, Pentazocine, Phencyclidine, Propoxyphene, Nalbuphine.  

--If there is a positive result there will be “disciplinary action on the first offense up to and including dismissal.”  If an officer or employee comes forward and reports a substance abuse problem “excluding all drugs not obtained for an originally legit medical reason” to a supervisor, that employee will be allowed to use sick time or personal leave to get help or go to rehab.

Highlands County Sheriff’s Office:

--Tests prior to employment, as a condition of employment. Then they do random, unplanned screens.

--Currently screen one member a week randomly.   

--They have a 9-panel drug test, which screens for amphetamines, benzodiazepines, cocaine, opiates, propoxyphene, barbiturates, marijuana, methadone, and phencyclidine.

--If they test positive, they are asked to take a second test, and if positive must seek documented treatment and be subjected to random drug screens.

Hernando County Sheriff’s Office:

--Employees must report immediately to the designated testing facility after being notified. If they’re not there within an hour the HR Director will be notified and he’ll tell he Division Commander who will investigate the employee’s non-compliance.

--Police are also tested if there is a crash

--“Sworn and special risk personnel may be discharged or disciplined for the first positive confirmed drug test result when illicit drugs, pursuant to F.S. 893.13 are confirmed.  No sworn or special risk personnel shall be permitted to continue to work in a safety sensitive or special risk assignment, but may be placed in a non-safety sensitive position if such position is available, or on leave status while awaiting the results of the (criminal and/or internal) investigation.”

--If an officer comes forward admitting a problem and wants to go to rehab they can do that without penalty and come back to work as long as they complete the program successfully.

Polk County Sheriff’s Office:

--Does random testing and tests for opiates.

--If a worker tests positive for opiates, they’re asked to show a prescription.

Bradenton Police Department:

--Up to 10% of total sworn police department workforce is subject to random testing each month.  They’re chosen by an external computer.

--Employees are subject to blood, urine or intoximeter tests if there is a reasonable observable suspicion by the employees immediate supervisor or the police chief or their designee. Anonymous phone calls on their own will not result in reasonable suspicion.

--If positive test results, the employee “may be disciplined or discharged.” If they refuse they’re fired.

--If a person tests positive for illegal drugs in a random test they are automatically fired. If they test positive for “other than illegal drugs” they can go to rehab.

--If the employee comes forward and voluntarily says the have a problem and enroll in a rehab program they can take leave or vacation time or do it without pay.  If they fail to complete the program they’re fired.

Pasco County Sheriff’s Office:

--Does random drug testing

--Tests for opiates: including codeine, heroin, morphine, and Dilaudid (hydromorphone).

Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office

--Pre-employment drug test

--Doesn’t do random drug testing

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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