LONGBOAT KEY, Fla. -- When Jeffrey L. Houchins was applying for a job at the Lakeland Police Department, he asked an employee waiting in the lobby if he wanted to see pictures of dead bodies, according to the department.
Lakeland Public Information Officer Gary Gross said Houchins, 48, now an officer with the Longboat Key Police Department, was talking to civilian background investigator Nick Ivancevich while waiting to get instructions for a psychological exam.
“While he (Ivancevich) was sitting there just talking to the guy, he (Houchins) throws out, ‘Hey do you want to see some dead bodies?’” Gross said.
Houchins was not hired by Lakeland Police after the Sept. 22, 2015 incident. He applied at the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, but wasn’t hired there, either.
“It appears Mr. Houchins did apply for the sheriff’s office,” Spokesperson Kaitlyn Perez said. “However, he was not selected due to several concerns that arose during his background investigation including prior drug use, reprimands, and a recent suspension at his employer.”
Longboat Key Deputy Police Chief Frank Rubino confirmed Thursday that Houchins is an officer there. Houchins has been with the department for almost three years.
“At this point there’s an internal investigation,” Rubino said. “We are unable to provide information but can provide more on the investigation at its conclusion.”
After the incident, Ivancevich wrote a letter to background investigator Olivia Escoba detailing Houchins’ behavior. He said after Houchins completed his exam, he asked Ivancevich what to do with his packet. Ivancevich directed Houchins to the front office area and gave him driving instructions to a doctor’s office.
Ivancevich said he and Houchins “engaged in small talk…asking where he was from and the size of the agency he currently works for," according to the letter obtained from the Lakeland Police Department.
The letter said, “Mr. Houchins replied he was from Greenwood, Indiana and explained it was a small agency with 58 sworn officers. Then, without being prompted, Mr. Houchins reportedly stated “want to see some dead guys?” as he retrieved his cell phone from his pocket.”
Ivancevich said it appeared Houchins had a gallery on his phone “set specifically for these types of photographs that he has taken while on duty.” Some of the photos Ivancevich saw were of a suspected overdose victim and of traffic fatality victims.
Attempts to contact Houchins were unsuccessful. The Greenwood Police Department did not return a reporter’s call for comment.
On Tuesday, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported Houchins had resigned from Greenwood and that police chief John Laut told them he wasn’t aware that Houchins was keeping photos of crime scenes.
Having or taking graphic photos of crime scenes isn’t illegal in Florida.
Gross said it’s not unusual for officers to use agency-issued cell phones for documenting purposes, but “you take a photograph then put it into evidence and delete it.”
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