PORT RICHEY, Fla. – In the midst of a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation prompted by a 10Investigates report, the officer at the center of the controversy, Capt. Erik Barcelo, has given his resignation to the Port Richey Police Department.
Barcelo cited “personal family issues” in his resignation letter. His resignation is effective Sunday, Oct. 1.
10Investigates showed how internal affairs documents and officer discipline records appear to have been improperly accessed and removed from city personnel files, benefiting officers with multiple discipline issues. Barcelo had been in charge of internal affairs records since assuming the second-in-command position under new Chief Gerard DeCanio last October.
DeCanio said it was impossible any wrongdoing could have taken place under his watch, and chose not to launch an official investigation.
The majority of Port Richey City Council criticized 10Investigates for the report, even before they had seen it. One councilmember, supportive of the new police chief, suggested the report was “fake news.” Another councilmember said reporters cannot be trusted.
However, at the urging of councilmember Nancy Britton, the council still voted to ask the FDLE for an investigation to “clear the air” since the city had “nothing to hide.”
At that same June council meeting, several Port Richey residents defended their police department and criticized 10Investigates.
"Mr. Fake News - is he going to report the story when the truth comes out?" one citizen asked rhetorically.
Another citizen confronted the reporter afterward outside the meeting with expletives.
FDLE opened its investigation later in June and tells 10Investigates it is still open. DeCanio said Thursday he was surprised the investigation was still open since FDLE had already interviewed him and Barcelo "months ago" and he hadn't heard back from investigators.
DeCanio’s original explanation of what happened to the records shifted during 10Investigates’ three-month investigation, but took Barcelo and officer Jeffrey Cox at their word when they both denied any wrongdoing. Cox was DeCanio’s former partner and had numerous discipline records missing from his personnel files.
DeCanio admitted to improperly shredding one Cox disciplinary record himself, claiming he didn’t know state law required him to save the document since it was ultimately dismissed over a procedural issue.
Since 10Investigates began asking questions, DeCanio recovered some of the missing files through city archives. However, Barcelo was unable to produce years’ worth of internal affairs records that appear to have gone missing.
Barcelo has not returned 10Investigates’ requests for comment Thursday, but DeCanio said he was simply moving back to Florida's east coast to be with his immediate family.
The current FDLE investigation is the Port Richey Police Department’s second in three years; in 2014, a towing scandal rocked the city, with several officers disciplined for violating policy on receiving benefits from a private company. However, FDLE took no action since there was no proof any state laws were violated.