CLEARWATER, Fla. - It has not been an easy week for Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.
The sheriff said he wrestled with the decision to fire four of his own Tuesday. He terminated Sgt. Christopher Metro and the three longtime deputies Metro supervised -- Kenneth Burroughs, Samuel Mitchem, and Robert Harmer.
Gualtieri said he had no choice but to do what he did. He told 10 News that ultimately he has to hold his people accountable to the citizens of Pinellas County.
Sheriff Gualtieri said during a press conference, "They weren't doing their jobs, they were loafing, idling, hiding, and not engaging in law enforcement activity and, really, at the end of the day, they were stealing a paycheck."
The deputies faced 217 incidents, according to an internal affairs report. The men were said to be wasting taxpayer money to the tune of $24,000 by loafing on the job, hiding from plain sight, even disconnecting a GPS so they would not be found. It totaled hours and hours of idling, said the sheriff.
During our investigation, 10 News learned from a source that an administrative review board, or an ARB as it's called, run by the chain of command originally voted for a 5-day suspension for these longtime deputies, not an outright firing.
So, why didn't the sheriff go along with that recommendation?
The sheriff said, "I decided, nobody else. I decided and I don't think the punishments should have been less severe."
In fact, the sheriff is not alone in the Bay Area in terminating law enforcement officers for not doing their jobs. 10 News learned that just four years ago there was a huge shake up at the Tampa Police Department very similar to this one, where four veteran detectives lost their jobs for "not putting in a full work week."
"They were getting into work late and leaving work early," said a TPD source. "It was a big deal. These people had a lot of time on the force."
A Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office spokesperson said their agency had not seen any recent incidents similar to this.
In the Pinellas case, there were also allegations that the men who were fired were supporting Gualtieri's opponent, former Sheriff Everett Rice, in the upcoming election. Qualifying begins in June, followed by the primary in August.
Gualtieri said this is absolutely not about politics. "There's no truth and it's offensive, frankly. And whoever they want to support, they can support," he said.
10 News spoke exclusively with Everett Rice, who weighed in on the situation. "It's quite a coincidence that all these guys were my supporters and they get fired for extreme loafing? And I would ask what about all these other allegations where cops are accused of stealing, cheating on search warrants, masquerading as utility workers, jumping over fences? When will we hear about those disciplines?"
Rice said one of his greatest accomplishments in his administration is creating the Civil Service Board back in the late eighties for deputies in order for them to get their jobs back after being terminated. He said he feels proud of the process he created.
Rice said, "I never wanted deputies to feel as though they would face retribution within the agency for disciplinary action. Politics did not play a role in my years and should not in any agency."
That very board will be the one the fired deputies will now use.
Meanwhile, the deputies have already filed paperwork through their union, via their attorney, to get the process started in getting their jobs back.
"The efforts have started. It is the right thing to do," one of the deputies told 10 News.