Four Pinellas County sheriff’s deputies were suspended after internal investigations found they neglected their duties during Hurricane Irma.
Deputies Jason Beetz, Kristen Spielmeyer and Brian Williams received 40 hours without pay with part of the punishments delayed if they stay out of trouble for the next year, according to the investigations. Beetz and Williams were also demoted to patrol deputies from their jobs as narcotics detectives, said Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. Cpl. Hal White was handed down 16 hours.
Gualtieri said they all accepted responsibility and apologized, but their mistakes still warranted punishment.
“First responders make a decision to enter a profession that really is an ultimate inconvenience,” he said. “When everyone else was stepping up, they stepped out.”
The employees could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Spielmeyer has worked for the agency since 1992, White and Williams since 2005, and Beetz since 2013.
The Sheriff’s Office reminds employees to have a plan for themselves and their families every year at the start of hurricane season, Gualtieri said. As Irma barreled toward Florida, supervisors communicated with their employees to make sure their responsibilities during the storm were clear.
Beetz, 32, was assigned to patrol evacuation areas then shelter at the Sheriff’s Administration Building, according to the investigation. He told his supervisors that, while he was aware of the consequences, he wouldn’t report for duty. Spielmeyer, 45, evacuated instead of reporting for duty at the jail. Williams, 35, showed up at the beginning of his shift to patrol evacuation areas but went home an hour later.
The investigative summaries don’t state why, but Gualtieri said they all had family members at home and didn’t make necessary arrangements ahead of time.
White, 43, was supposed to go in two hours early to his shift at the jail but said he didn’t receive the voice mails instructing him to do so. He tried to go to his shift at the normal start time but felt the weather conditions were too unsafe to drive and alerted his supervisor he wasn’t going to come in. Gualtieri said the fact that he tried to come in warranted a lesser punishment.
The incidents happened between Sept. 9 and Sept. 11.
In September, four city of Largo employees lost their jobs for similar reasons. It’s common for governments to have policies for employees to report to work during a storm.
Gualtieri said he didn’t feel termination fit the level of wrongdoing, especially considering they were all good workers with little, if any, disciplinary history, and said they would plan better next time.
“I’ll take them at their word,” he said.