10Investigates: Former female police trainee suing for assault

A woman hoping to join the force ended up hospitalized.

ST. PETERSBURG -- A mother wants to serve and protect the community and enrolled in police recruit training. However, as 10Investigates discovered, the woman says what was supposed to be physical training left her seriously injured.

Former recruit Kathleen DeNardi says police instructor Rick Tapia had personal issues with her.

“He did not like me,” DeNardi told us.

DeNardi claims Tapia targeted her, leaving her seriously injured after drills. The first time she was hurt, DeNardi said, Tapia told another student to "Take her down, now!" The second time, she says, she was forced to box with two of the largest men in class.

Ultimately DeNardi received a broken wrist, needing surgery, and had multiple large bruises to her face and ribs.

“I was thinking I was getting severely injured,” DeNardi says “And I told the instructor to stop.”

However, she says, Tapia would not.

“If I were to stop, he said to 'get out,'" she said. That meant she would have been out of the academy and her dreams of being a police officer would be over.

When we showed Tapia a picture of DeNardi with two black eyes, he said, “It appears bad. But appearances are more than what they are.”

Tapia said he can't comment further because of a pending lawsuit.

Indeed, a letter from DeNardi’s attorney, John McGuire, notified St. Petersburg College, which administers the training program, that DeNardi intends to sue the school because she believes the instructor, along with the two large males, were attempting to kill her. Public agencies like the college have to be put on notice for six months before a lawsuit can be filed.

McGuire, who was a military police officer and has gone through police training himself, says, “I've never heard of full contact boxing in FDLE (Florida Department of Law Enforcement). There is no reason to train a police officer to punch someone in the face. It doesn't make sense to me whatsoever.”

DeNardi said not only was she hit by the two male students, but Tapia himself boxed her without gloves. Sheh claims that Tapia hit her on her temple and multiple times in her face. She says she was hit by his bare fist.

Meantime, Tapia says, “If you knew the background on this, and I'd love to talk to you, but I really can’t right now."

This isn't the first time the police training program at SPC has been accused of negligence.

10Investigates found the college paid out $45,000 of taxpayer money in 2006 to a recruit who fell through a ceiling window in the training room.

We also uncovered records of several incidents over the past five years of neck and rib injuries to recruits.

Meanwhile, Kathleen DeNardi says after the administration saw her two black eyes, she was kicked out of the program.

“I had a meeting with the vice president and she it was unacceptable to walk around the campus with those black eyes,” she says.

The FDLE says boxing is not part of its approved program, but Tapia maintains that’s not a problem because he says the program exceeds FDLE standards.

St Petersburg College says it cannot comment because of the impending lawsuit.


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