THE SORDID HISTORY OF THE PINELLAS COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE
* THE FIRST PINELLAS COUNTY SHERIFF: 1912 (Appointed)
The peninsula named from the Spanish Punta Piñal (“Point of Pines” or “Piney Point”) was the 280 square-mile area that would become Pinellas and is known as Western Hillsborough. When the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office was founded, there were only 13,193 residents in what we now know as Pinellas County.
Walton Whitehurst was one of the first residents of Hillsborough County in the early 1800’s. His family had direct involvement with the Seminole Wars (1816-1858), where whites attacked and drove the native Seminole Indians from the area. This was no actual “war”. It was more like an extermination in order to take the land from the native tribesman. Many of Whitehurst’s relatives figured prominently in the attack and murder of the indigenous Seminole tribe during the “Seminole Wars”. It was in essence, the first “police” action in what would later become Pinellas County.
Walton Whitehurst then became a member of the Florida House of Representatives and his political connections were used to enrich and favor his family and friends. The Whitehurst family used their political clout to appoint and post their sons as Sheriffs all across Hillsborough County and the surrounding areas to exert their family’s political and social control using Badges and the color of law.
On November 14, 1911, a referendum made it official. The residents of “West Hillsborough” voted for independence by a tally of 1,379 to 505, thus creating Pinellas County Florida. Governor Albert Gilchrist asked the Democratic Executive Committee to hold a party election. Republican nominees were not permitted to take part. With his father’s influence, Marvel Whitehurst emerged as the popular Democratic choice and was appointed Pinellas County’s first Sheriff of Pinellas County. This same charade was duplicated for Whitehurst’s other sons. On December 15, as provided for in a bill, Governor Gilchrist (right before his term expired) appointed three sons of Walton Whitehurst to Sheriff in three new counties in the Tampa Bay Area.
Marvel M. Whitehurst, became the first Pinellas County Sheriff, while his brother, William “Rat” Whitehurst, was appointed the first Sheriff of Tarpon Springs. His other Brother, John Sherrod Whitehurst, was the first appointed Sheriff in the Plant city area. Another brother, Cab Whitehurst, served under his brother in Plant city, while yet another brother, John Alexander Whitehurst was on the Tarpon Springs police force. The Whitehurst clan had the entire Tampa Bay area law enforcement organization all in the family. This was the beginning of nepotism in the Sheriff’s office, a tradition that continues to this day. The county citizens had no say in the matter. Even if there had been an election, the black residents of Pinellas County who registered to vote were not permitted to vote. St. Petersburg Police (and after 1914, the Pinellas County Sheriff) would stand out in front of the election polls and not allow blacks to enter, using threats of arrest and violence.
A new era of racism and segregation was heralded in by these first sheriffs. St. Petersburg was trying desperately to lure rich Philadelphia society members to winter in the area. The agenda was investment and growth of St. Petersburg. At one point, a mail-out of over 50,000 brochures was sent North to accomplish this goal. As the rich and powerful of Philadelphia arrived, they brought with them their views on society and class structure and pushed those views through the political process in Pinellas County. St Petersburg’s famous “whites only” green benches became a reality and the police and Sheriffs were there to enforce it. It was not uncommon for the actual Sheriff to personally whip people, mostly blacks, in public.
The benches first appeared in 1906 when Noel Mitchell, a prominent real estate developer and salesman, installed them at the corner of Central Avenue and Fourth Street. Soon, others began mimicking him, installing benches everywhere, orange and purple and green. But when Al Lang became mayor in 1916, one of his priorities was to make the benches uniform. In 1917, he pushed through an ordinance that all of them were to be green.  The St. Petersburg police and the Pinellas County Sheriffs would make sure blacks did not sit on these green benches. There could be no law or enforcement of such to make this so. The racism was strictly “the custom” in Pinellas County because the police knew what the rules were and enforced the racist policies lock-step. The rules were enforced for any number of parks, beaches and businesses.
Segregation had always been present to some degree in St. Petersburg, but to some blacks it seemed that the practice grew harsher as the 1900s progressed. Paul Barco, a black St. Petersburg resident, whose father had arrived in 1905, later recalled that his mother and father conducted their courtship in Williams Park. Barco, born in 1916, had grandchildren of his own before he saw the park for the first time. The intensity of racial discrimination seemed to increase sometime after 1905. Discussing the phenomenon, Barco observed:
My daddy said when he came to this city, if you had to go to a doctor, you went on over to the doctor. He had one waiting room there, he waited on whoever was there. And the people who were in there were rustic [white] people, just like the others [who were black]. They were not the polished persons from elsewhere, who probably had never been around a [black] person. But my dad said as these persons began to come down who had the great amounts of finance and they had been exposed to a great deal of literary training, then these people felt that they didn’t care to sit in the same room with these [black] people. According to his father, “the polished persons” put pressure on the people who rendered the services to institute segregated facilities. Eventually, the dentist, who was white, added a separate waiting room for blacks, telling Barco’s father that “things were changing.” Crime, even petty crime by blacks, frequently resulted in a harsh response. For example, whites would not hesitate to shoot at a black person for so slight a transgression as stealing fruit.”  The white person that shot the black for stealing fruit did not have to worry about the Sheriff arresting them or charging them with any crime. The piece of fruit that likely would have fallen on the ground and rotted was of more value to the Sheriff than the black person who died trying to eat it.”
One of the three Whitehurst brothers, Willian Eeastus “Rat” was Sheriff of Pinellas County in Tarpon Springs buggy whipped a man he claimed assaulted his father. This led to a shoot out in Tarpon springs that killed Tarpon Sheriff Whitehurst and set in motion a trial, and the acquittal of the shooter. The vigilante shooting of the acquitted man by friends of the murdered sheriff and likely other deputies led to a feud that lasted several years. Revenge and murder were not out of the realm of the first Sheriffs of Pinellas County, nor ones that came after.
Marvel Whitehurst was Sheriff of Pinellas County from 1912 – 1920. Marvel Whitehurst won the county’s first regular election in 1912 and reelection in 1916. Recall that he was initially appointed the first sheriff in 1911 through influence by the governor. This tradition of having Sheriffs “appointed” first and winning the following election starting a long line of “chain of command inbreeding” where the Sheriff in Pinellas County was pre-selected for the voters and the election was just a formality. And like many Sheriffs that came after Whitehurst, scandal marked his tenure in office. He was accused of turning a blind eye to certain criminal charges leveled against his deputy, W. L. Strickland, and was accused of not acting swiftly enough to stem the activities of a local confidence operation. It seems Strickland was a dirty cop and Whitehurst was also in on the take. Deputy Strickland was pocketing tax money he was assigned to collect. He was working with some con men to swindle people on a horseracing scam just like in the movie “The Sting”, with Robert Redford. Deputy Strickland also stole thousands of dollars’ worth of jewelry that he was caught fencing. When Deputy Strickland was indicted, Whitehurst made no attempt to have him arrested. Some of the men that were swindled went and picked Strickland up and delivered him to the jail at the old courthouse, along with the con men. Whitehurst let Deputy Strickland out on a bond that was worthless and let the other con men escape. The impression was he didn’t want any of these men to talk, because they would have implicated Whitehurst in the scandals.
Whitehurst was removed from office by the governor in 1920, yet struggled to win back public confidence and the popular vote. So the very first sheriff ever appointed to Pinellas County was removed from office by the new governor for malfeasance and corruption.
These scandals of Marvel Whitehurst were not his worst. History has tried hard to bury and ignore his worst scandal, the lynching of John Evans in St. Petersburg in 1914. “Historians” have done a great job of hiding those prominent politicians, police and businessmen that were directly responsible for the lynching. As historian Jon L. Wilson points out, was the kidnapping of Evans from the city jail and his subsequent lynching the spontaneous action of a mob, or was there subtle planning to achieve a quick, extralegal execution to remove a threat to the community’s progress? What is indisputable is the fact that the St. Pete police and the new Sheriff of Pinellas County were right in the middle of it all.
In 1914, in St. Petersburg, other than the hours they spent working their jobs, blacks were seldom allowed in the business district or in the white residential sections. Segregation was strictly enforced by the St. Petersburg police and the Pinellas County Sheriff as well as in the political process. In fact some officers and deputies considered segregataion their main job. In 1913, for example, a primary election in which only whites were permitted to vote, produced the commissioners who would direct town affairs for the next several years. The new Pinellas County Sheriff was in charge of keeping the blacks out of the polls. The white-only election was called because some feared the strong support from blacks for certain candidates. Major Lew B. Brown’s Evening Independent newspaper supported the white primary as “a voluntary expression of the white voters in order to maintain control of city affairs in the hands of the white people.” It expressed some fear that blacks could control the town if all of them voted as a bloc. Only 500 blacks were registered to vote which was less than one twelfth of the town population yet it seemed to justify the special primary. 
THE LYNCHING OF JOHN EVANS
The evening of November 10, 1914, a Tuesday, brought a soft autumn breeze and mild temperatures near sixty-five degrees. A local businessman named Mr. Sherman retired about 8 o’clock, sleeping in a bedroom alcove with low, narrow windows on both sides of it and two larger ones in the front. Mrs. Sherman was sitting in an adjoining parlor, making Christmas baskets of grass and pine needles. It was about 9:30 or 10 o’clock when the blast tore through the bungalow. Screaming, Mrs. Sherman leaped toward the bedroom. It was then, she stated later, that a black man appeared, thrusting a revolver in her face, demanding money and threatening to kill her if she resisted. Mrs. Sherman handed over about $100 in cash that her husband had withdrawn from the bank the day before. According to Mrs. Sherman’s account to police, a second black man appeared, and the pair dragged her outside, beat her across the face with a length of pipe, battered her head against an outbuilding wall and tore off some of her clothes. Newspaper accounts during the next two days strongly suggested she was also raped. With a final threat to kill her if she moved, the assailants fled, and Mrs. Sherman fainted.
Suspicion fell immediately on John Evans, a black man from Dunnellon, who had come with Sherman by car from that town several weeks earlier. Evans had worked for Sherman as a chauffeur and general roustabout, but he was fired on Saturday, November 7. Although there had been no serious quarrel, Evans drank during the weekend and seemed to carry a grudge, according to an acquaintance. From her hospital bed a few hours after the crimes, moreover, Mrs. Sherman told Dr. F. W. Wilcox that she thought she recognized the voice of one of her assailants as that of Evans. 
With only five policemen on its payroll in 1914, the city was plunged into a situation where it was forced to cope with serious crime and civil disorder. The new Pinellas County Sheriff stepped in with his deputies and every lawman in the entire new county was part of everything that occurred after.
Law enforcement officials moved swiftly on November 11. A coroner’s jury viewed the murder scene and Police Chief A. L. Easters went straight to the Sherman home. So did Deputy Charles Simms, representing Pinellas County Sheriff Marvel Whitehurst. The two law officers surmised that Sherman’s killer had crept to a window outside the alcove where Sherman lay sleeping, stood on a low pile of dirt and fired a shotgun through the screen. Footprints under the window seemed to match others leading north from the house. Based on Mrs. Sherman’s descriptions, apparently relayed through Dr. Wilcox, Easters ordered the arrests of Evans and another black man known as Tobe, said to have fingers missing on his right hand. 
As news of the crimes spread and residents began to form a posse and mill in the streets, the first person arrested was Ebenezer B. Tobin. Sheriff’s Deputy Grover C. McMullen made the arrest on Ninth Street, when he spied a man who fit the description of the man called Tobe. After questioning at the St. Petersburg police office, McMullen put Tobin on a train to Clearwater before anyone in the gathering crowd learned of the arrest. Tobin was held in the county jail at Clearwater despite the fact that Deputy Simms searched the black man’s home, found no evidence and declared that he believed Tobin told the truth when he denied any part in the crime.
Yet, that would not prevent Tobin from being hanged with the new Sheriff Marvel Whitehurst pulling the gallows trap door handle himself. McMullen also arrested another black man, George W. Gadson, in some woods near Largo after two detectives trailed Gadson and three other black men along the railroad tracks. John Evans was found about the same time by Pinellas deputy E. L. Proctor, with the help of a black informant. It seemed that being outdoors while black automatically made you a suspect of the Pinellas County Sheriff. However, Evans could not be linked to the killing. Taken before Mrs. Sherman, he was released after she could not identify him as her attacker. Mrs. Sherman looked at several other black men, but could not name any as an assailant. 
Since his release from custody the day before, Evans had gone to work for a black man west of town near Fifth Avenue South and Twenty-second Street. Someone telephoned his whereabouts to Police Chief Easters. The caller also indicated that Evans had been told the mob was after him again but that he had responded that he would not run. “If the mob wanted him,” he said, “it could come get him.” 
That it did, after the mob received directions from police chief Easters on exactly where they could find Evans. Hoping to force a confession, the vigilantes took Evans into the woods, tortured him and nearly lynched him on the spot. According to the Tampa Tribune, Evans was subjected to intense methods to provoke a confession but remained stoic throughout. After being subjected to all known methods, and his continued denial that he knew anything of the crime, Evans was told to make his peace with God and to say his prayers. He said he had no prayers to say. It is alleged a rope was placed around his neck and he was lifted clear of the ground, but he continued to deny he is [sic] the guilty man. 
Later, Dr. Wilcox, Mayor J. G. Bradshaw and Police Chief Easters talked briefly with the people outside the hospital, saying that Evans would be left in the St. Petersburg jail and not taken to Clearwater until he could be named as an assailant as long as the crowd would not molest him. 
After hours without success, the mob took Evans back before Mrs. Sherman who, once again, could not identify him as one of her husband’s murderers or as her attacker. Nevertheless, Evans was taken back to the city jail, where a mob, 1,500-strong, gathered. After threatening to kill the jailer, E. H. Nichols, the mob tore down part of the jail’s sidewall, tossed a noose over Evans’ neck and dragged him into the street. At least half of the city’s white population then marched west down Central Avenue towards the black section of the city where Evans was killed. One eye-witness recalled the scene, “little kids with guns were shootin’ and women standin’ there shootin’ and screamin’ and yellin’ and – and shootin’. It was the damndest mess you ever heard in your life, you never heard anything like it.”
In St. Petersburg, the mobs clearly fit the pattern of providing unofficial aid to the law officers and St. Petersburg police and Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputies were surely at the scene of the lynching. With no apparent qualms, Police Chief Easters encouraged a posse to hunt down Evans the second time, even telling the vigilantes where to look. Remarkable, too, was the spirit of cooperation evident in the naming of one man, J. C. Blocker, to act as an intermediary between the crowds and the lawmen. With such encouragement, it is not surprising that people in the mobs felt free to act without restraint. 
Throughout the South, particularly after Reconstruction, lynching became the typical method of intimidating blacks and maintaining the racial superiority sought by whites. The practice, or the threat of it, was used as a means of social control and to enforce racial division. 
On the afternoon of November 12, following the recapture of Evans, several things happened that suggest the lynching was well-organized. First, a policeman visited the white people living near the black area immediately west of Ninth Street South and warned them. Stanley Sweet, a witness to the lynching who lived with his family on Tenth Street and Fourth Avenue South, later remembered, “A police officer came up there and told my dad, he says, ‘You’d better plan on getting out tonight because there’s liable to be trouble.”
Newspaper editorials also took up the cause of justification. The St. Pete Daily Times carried a commentary that appeared first in the Ocala Star:
The negro John Evans, who was lynched in St. Petersburg Thursday night, abided awhile in his passage through this world in Marion County, and was sent up by the superior court to serve a term in the penitentiary for grand larceny. The officers here say he was a bad character, and it was probably safe for the people of St. Petersburg to lynch him on general principles whether he was guilty of the crime he was accused of or not. 
Ebenezer Tobin, was eventually identified by Mrs. Sherman and tried for murder on September 17, 1915. After deliberating fifteen minutes, the jury found him guilty and Circuit Judge O. K. Reaves sentenced him on September 20 to be hanged by the neck until dead. Governor Park Trammell rejected a plea for clemency by Tobin’s attorney. On October 22, at 11:06 a.m., Tobin died maintaining his innocence in Pinellas County’s first legal hanging. Pinellas County Sheriff Marvel Whitehurst himself, who had seen to it that Tobin was kept from the mobs, dropped the gallows trap.
Whitehurst died in 1930. He received a full military funeral due to his service in the Spanish-American War and was buried in Curlew Cemetery in Palm Harbor, Florida.
* Removed from office for corruption and malfeasance
THE SECOND PINELLAS COUNTY SHERIFF: 1920 (Appointed)
Lorenso E. Sloat was interim Sheriff from 1920 – 1921 after being appointed to fill the vacancy left when disgraced Sheriff Marvel Whitehurst was removed from office. He announced that he would not be a candidate in the 1920 election, perhaps because of the magnitude of the race going on between Marvel Whitehurst and Democratic frontrunner William S. Lindsey. Lindsey won the election and stepped into office in early January of 1921. He would be one of many Pinellas County Sheriff’s handpicked and appointed rather than elected by the people.
THE THIRD SHERIFF OF PINELLAS COUNTY: 1921 (Elected)
The third Pinellas County Sheriff was William S. Lindsey from 1921 – 1925. He would be the first Pinellas County Sheriff’s that obtained his office by actual election, rather than appointment. Having been pre-selected by the local political hierarchy, this gives a great advantage to the “incumbent” Sheriff in the next election. For eight years prior to becoming Pinellas County Sheriff, William Lindsey worked for the St. Petersburg Police Department. He served as chief for the last six months of his career there. Lindsey served only a single term as Sheriff.
Lindsey was most certainly involved in the 1914 lynching of John Evans in St. Petersburg. Even if he had not taken part in the actual lynching, he most certainly took no steps to stop it. He also failed to arrest any of those that took part in the lynching, even though the entire city knew who was involved.
The election of 1924 was a maelstrom of political activity. The Democratic primary had six candidates, among them Marvel Whitehurst, vying for their party’s support. Lindsey received only 70 votes in that contest. Roy Booth won the 1924 Democratic primary, then went on to win the election as the county’s fourth Sheriff.
THE FOURTH SHERIFF OF PINELLAS COUNTY: 1925 (Elected by contested vote count)
Roy Booth was Pinellas County Sheriff from 1925 – 1929 and 1930 – 1933 due to a rigged election ballot fraud and a long court battle. From the political brawling that occurred during the 1924 election, Roy Booth emerged victorious to attain the office of Pinellas County Sheriff. He spent much of his time in office running after bootleggers in this Prohibition period. One report recounted that the Sheriff’s Office had made 30 arrests in 30 days, including arresting one man for selling whiskey that was “alleged to have driven three well-known men crazy.” Booth lost the 1928 election to Republican challenger Gladstone Beattie. Almost immediately, Booth filed suit, alleging certain irregularities in the voting procedures and demanded that the ballots be recounted. Seventeen months and two trips to the Florida Supreme Court later, Booth won approval for his request. A recount declared him the victor, and he was restored to the Sheriff’s Office in May of 1930. In his years as Sheriff, Booth established the first County Traffic Patrol, consisting of two motorcycle patrolmen whose duty was to check reckless driving. He opened the first Sheriff’s branch office in St. Petersburg as well. Booth lost reelection in 1932. He died in his hometown of Safety Harbor in 1959.
McMullen Booth road is named after these two former sheriffs.
* THE FIFTH SHERIFF OF PINELLAS COUNTY: 1929 (Elected)
Gladstone R. Beattie was Pinellas County Sheriff from 1929 – 1930. He would be the second Pinellas County Sheriff to be elected out of a total of five. Gladstone Beattie had been in Pinellas County only four years when he ran for the position of Sheriff. He was the first Republican to be elected to that office. However, he was removed from office in February of 1930 by Democratic Governor Doyle E. Carlton for malfeasance and misfeasance.
So far, out of the five Pinellas County Sheriffs in office for the first 17 years of the existence of the Sheriff’s Office, two were removed due to massive corruption, and one was removed for election fraud. Two were appointed.
The governor charged that Beattie failed to make arrests, allowed illegal gambling activities to flourish and accepted “protection” money from those involved in illegal operations. Interestingly, these were similar accusations of the first Sheriff, Whitehurst and his Deputy Strickland, just a few years earlier. It was widely known that certain criminal activities would be permitted in Pinellas County. A fee would grant you the blessing of the local Sheriff. Afterall, this was a leading factor in why the entire Whitehurst clan manipulated their way into heading most of prominent law enforcement agencies in the Tampa Bay area in the first place. However, when the political winds shifted, Sheriffs were occasionally held accountable for their misdeeds in early days.
In the meantime, Roy Booth was successful in his bid to recount the ballots in the 1928 election and was restored to office shortly after Beattie’s dismissal. Beattie continued to be active in local politics, however, running again for Sheriff in 1932. He lost that election to Ernest G. Cunningham.
* Removed from office for corruption and malfeasance.
THE SIXTH SHERIFF OF PINELLAS COUNTY: 1933 (Appointed)
Ernest G. Cunningham was the sixth Sheriff of Pinellas County from 1933 – 1941. Continuing the dangerous trend, he was the fourth one appointed and then elected for a second term to the position. Sheriff Cunningham was one of many Sheriffs in Pinellas County that was elected without any law enforcement experience. The Sheriff’s Office had fewer than ten employees when Ernest Cunningham began his term in office. Cunningham served as St. Petersburg City Commissioner before vying for the office of Sheriff. His family was successful in business. One brother, Vernon, founded the Ninth Street Bank and Trust Company. Before he was elected to the office, Cunningham served as interim Sheriff during the brief period of Gladstone Beattie’s removal and Roy Booth’s reinstatement. In these four months, he managed to lose a substantial portion of the Sheriff’s funds on deposit in his brother’s Ninth Street Bank and Trust when that financial institution closed. This is just some more of the early corruption within the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office. Despite this fact, Cunningham won the 1932 primary and defeated Gladstone Beattie in the general election. He was reelected in 1936 and retired at the end of that second term. Afterwards, he spent his time raising cattle and became the first president of the Pinellas County Cattlemen’s Association.
THE SEVENTH SHERIFF OF PINELLAS COUNTY: 1941 (Elected)
Todd Tucker was Pinellas County Sheriff from 1941 – 1953. Sheriff Tucker would be the third Pinellas County Sherif out of the six to actually be elected to that office. Todd Tucker came into the office of Sheriff with years of law enforcement experience under his belt, having served as Deputy Sheriff and as a plainclothes policeman with the St. Petersburg Police Department. One of the hallmarks of Tucker’s career was the procurement of in-car radio communications for the Sheriff’s patrol fleet. Tucker also had an opinion about the fee system that had financed the Sheriff’s Office to date. “I have always been opposed to the fee system,” Tucker once declared, “because I never thought it was right for an officer to have to depend on putting people in jail to collect his salary.” Another highlight of Tucker’s career was his zealous fight against gambling. Not only did he work to eliminate adult gambling from the county, but he also confiscated gumball machines which offered prizes on the premise that the machines enticed children to give up their pennies. Gumball machines confiscated to protect children? Law enforcement overreach became a tradition at the PCSO.
THE EIGHTH SHERIFF OF PINELLAS COUNTY: 1953 (Elected)
Sid Saunders was Pinellas County Sheriff from 1953 – 1958. Sheriff Saunders would be the fourth Sheriff to win the office of Sheriff by election of the people. Sid Saunders started his law enforcement career as a police officer for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. That position brought him to St. Petersburg, where he joined the Sheriff’s Office. In 1934, Sheriff Ernest Cunningham deputized Saunders and assigned him to the St. Petersburg district. He served as district constable from 1944 to 1952, then won the election of 1952 to become Pinellas County Sheriff. Saunders improved electronic communications within the Sheriff’s Office and with other Pinellas County law enforcement agencies. He was praised in the media for maintaining Pinellas County’s clean reputation, while, as one writer of the period noted, “hordes of underworld characters” flooded other parts of the state. Unbeknownst to his public, Saunders had a serious heart condition that would claim his life while in office. Saunders died on February 19, 1958, from bronchial pneumonia complicated by his rheumatic heart disease.
THE NINTH SHERIFF OF PINELLAS COUNTY: 1958 (Appointed)
Donald S. Genung was Pinellas County Sheriff from 1958 – 1975. He was appointed to the position after the passing of Sheriff Sid Saunders. After serving in the United States Air Force and attaining the rank of captain, Don Genung began his law enforcement career with the Clearwater Police Department in 1946. During that time, he served as patrolman, juvenile officer, detective, sergeant, captain of detectives and assistant chief. In 1953, he joined the Sheriff’s Office as chief criminal investigator. He was appointed interim Sheriff upon Sid Saunders’ death in 1958, then went on to win the 1958 election and subsequent reelections from 1960 through 1972. During this time in office, Genung was the driving force behind the massive expansion and expense of the Sheriff’s Office. He instituted standardized training for Sheriff’s Office personnel, standardized equipment and uniforms, the K-9 unit and the flight section.
He also expanded policing power of the Sheriff far beyond the powers authorized for the Sheriff’s office by the Florida Constitution. Genung was also the first Pinellas County Sheriff to consider the pockets of Pinellas County taxpayers as an unlimited resource meant for his use. He squandered large amount of money from taxpayers, buying such lavish unneeded items as helicopters, fleets of brand new cars, new offices, and even horses for a calvary style unit. The calvary unit sported Western bowties made famous by white planation owners, as well as Stetson cowboy hats. However, they looked more like they were going out on an Indian raid than offer legitimate policing in Pinellas County. The old south rises again. I am sure that this was such a comfort to minorities living in Pinellas County at the time.
In 1960, Sheriff Genung took over the Pinellas County Patrol due to corruption within that agency. Before this point, the Sheriff’s office did not normally do any patrol duties, law enforcement, or make arrests. The Florida Constitution that detailed a Florida Sheriff’s powers did not provide for any such authorization and still does not to this day. Before Genung, the Pinellas County Sheriff operated in accordance with the Florida Constitution. It existed to operate the jail, provide courts with process service and bailiffs and occasionally would go round up jurors who failed to show up. This was, and still is, all that is authorized by the Florida Constitution for the Constitutional office of sheriff. But that has not stopped every sheriff since from expanding the role of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office even farther to punish the people of Pinellas by either incarcerating them, or bleeding them dry through taxes and revenue collection.
Stetson cowboy hats were part of the official uniform until 1965.
Up until 1960, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office was located in the basement of the Clearwater jail. In 1960, the entire agency consisted of only ten sworn deputies according to Penny Cooke, retired lieutenant and current PCSO Historian.
At this point in 1960, Pinellas County had 374,655 inhabitants and crime was not a major issue. That equals one Pinellas County deputy per 37,456 residents. Today, we have 969,305 Pinellas County residents and one deputy for every 405 people. This represents a 23,790% increase in the number of deputies from 1960 to the current day. That is a 40,400% increase in deputies per resident with just a 159% increase in population.
From this point forward, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office would expand into a billion-dollar tax burden of 2,389 officers and $450,000,000 in annual costs. With each Sheriff since 1960 pushing for more expansion, more deputies, more equipment and vehicles and more of your tax dollars.
Communications and information retrieval took quantum leaps forward during the Genung administration with the implementation of the agency’s first Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system that utilized mobile display terminals in deputies’ vehicles for improved communications.
However, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s long history of racist enforcement and policies that targeted the minority community persisted from the days of Sheriff Whitehurst. In 1962, Sheriff Genung appointed the first black PCSO Sheriff’s Deputy, a man named John Cloud. While this was an important first step, it was a much smaller step than most people realized. Pinellas Deputy Cloud was fully accredited with the same powers as every other deputy. However, Sheriff Genung personally prohibited Deputy Cloud from arresting white people.
The landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed by President Johnson on July 2,1964. Black Pinellas Deputy John Cloud was still not permitted to arrest white people until late 1965, according to Penny Cooke, retired lieutenant and current PCSO Historian.
You can imagine how Deputy Cloud was treated among his peers during those times. If there was a problem in the black community, the white deputies would call Deputy Cloud. However, he was not permitted to patrol or stick his nose too far into the crimes committed by white Pinellas residents.
The current Pinellas County Sheriff’s official website has a photograph of Sheriff Genung in his white Colonel Sanders plantation suit and Deputy John Cloud surrounded by a crowd of African American Pinellas citizens from about 1962. It showed Sheriff Genung introducing Deputy John Cloud to the minority community. The PCSO website touts this exact photo as an example of how the PCSO “took on a modern identity” under Sheriff Genung. Of course, the PCSO website doesn’t detail how this “modern” Sheriff Genung refused to allow black deputy John Cloud to arrest any white people until 1965. I imagine soon after this is published, that photo will be taken down by current Sheriff Robert “Bob” Gualtieri.
Genung retired from the Sheriff’s Office on April 1, 1975, paving the way again for the now firmly established “chain of command inbreeding” policy of handpicking your successor to give them a huge advantage in any upcoming election. The pick that term, taking advantage of the retirement was a man named Bill Roberts, another “good old boy”. Don Genung died in Pinellas County in September of 2001 after a long bout with cancer. He was 84.
THE TENTH SHERIFF OF PINELLAS COUNTY: 1975 (Appointed)
William T. “Bill” Roberts was Sheriff of Pinellas County from 1975 – 1981 after being appointed to that position after the midterm retirement of former Sheriff Genung. This continued the practice of “chain of command inbreeding”, where Sheriffs would win election, knowing they were going to retire so that they could hand pick their replacements giving the appointed new Sheriff a massive advantage in subsequent elections.
Upon special request from Sheriff Don Genung, Governor Rubin Askew appointed Bill Roberts to fill the vacancy left by Genung’s retirement. Roberts served the remainder of that term and later won the 1976 election. Roberts had been a police officer for the city of Largo, then went to work for Pinellas County Sheriff Sid Saunders in 1953. Roberts functioned as deputy-in-charge of the Sheriff’s Clearwater Office, then chief deputy of the upper Pinellas area. He later was promoted to chief deputy and held that position for 17 years. Roberts did not participate in the 1980 election. After leaving the Sheriff’s Office, he pursued interests in the real estate profession. Roberts remained in Pinellas County through his retirement. He was 77 years old when he died in December of 2001.
During the tenure of Sheriff Bill Roberts, there were numerous complaints of racist policing, abuses and hiring and promotion discrimination going on at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Given the history of both the agency and the former long line of racist sheriffs, it was not much of a surprise. What was a surprise is that the Department of Justice actually investigated it and did something about it.
They threatened Pinellas County as a whole and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office with a massive fine. Alternatively the county could enter into a “consent decree” to bring the PCSO up to a diversity that matched the community in Pinellas County. This “1988 Consent Decree” as it is called is STILL in place at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office. Even after over 30 years, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office still has not met the terms of that diversity agreement even into 2020 under Sheriff Robert Gualtieri. In fact, after Gualtieri was appointed, the number of black deputies actually declined.
THE ELEVENTH SHERIFF OF PINELLAS COUNTY FLORIDA: 1981 (Elected)
Gerard A. “Gerry” Coleman was the eleventh Sheriff of Pinellas County from 1981 – 1989 and only the fifth Sheriff to initially win the office by actual election. Gerry Coleman was also the first Republican since Gladstone Beattie to win the Sheriff’s race in Pinellas County. Coleman grew up in New York City, where his father worked with the New York City Police Deparment for 37 years. His parents retired to Pinellas County, and Coleman started his law enforcement career with the old County Patrol. The following year, Coleman was appointed as a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Deputy under Sheriff Don Genung.
During Coleman’s administration, the Sheriff’s Office established its first victim’s advocate program. Coleman also introduced a policy manual for deputy conduct and an internal affairs unit to investigate allegations of misconduct from within the force. A system that seems to have failed at its task of holding officers accountable to this day.
His tenure as Sheriff drew some controversy in 1986 when his top aide, Jack Brady, was the subject of a federal Labor Department investigation into whether he received more money in disability checks than he should have. Brady committed suicide about a year later, ending the investigation. In his 1988 reelection bid, Coleman lost the Republican primary to former Sheriff’s Office captain and local attorney Everett S. Rice.
THE TWELFTH SHERIFF OF PINELLAS COUNTY: 1989 (Elected)
Everett S. Rice was sheriff from 1989 – 2004. His entire law enforcement career was with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Rice would be the sixth and last Pinellas County Sheriff to win the office of Sheriff by actual election for the next 30 years. All other Sheriffs that follow would be pre-selected by the Sheriff’s office and manipulated into office by appointment without voter input.
Sheriff Rice completed police academy training in 1967 and joined the office under Sheriff Don Genung. All Rice’s initial experience and training was under a sheriff who was known for his radical expansion of the Sheriff’s agency, including massive budget increases. Rice’s predecessor did appoint the first black Sheriff’s deputy but refused to allow the deputy to arrest white people. Rice learned all the old school ways. Rice quickly moved up the ranks attaining the rank of captain. In 1980, Rice became director of investigations for the agency. While working in the Sheriff’s Office, Rice had been advancing his academic career, with degrees from St. Petersburg Junior College and Stetson University College of Law. In 1985, Rice resigned his position with the Sheriff’s Office to practice law.
After three years with Rice & Kwall, P.A., Rice entered the 1988 Republican bid for Sheriff, won the primary by a hefty two-to-one margin and went on to easily win the 1988 election against Democratic contender Leroy Kelly, Jr. During his time in office, Rice initiated advancements in both agency automation and forensics. The number of municipalities contracting with the Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services increased. Additionally, Rice reinstituted civil service for members of the office and expanded the agency pay scale, allowing members to build careers in their areas of preference and expertise.
Following his reelection in 1996, Rice joined his fellow constitutional officers in opposition to a referendum question which imposed term limits of eight years on county elected officials. The vote was initiated by a grassroots “Eight Is Enough” campaign. Rice said that he embraced referendums as the voice of the people, but in this case he said the question before the voters was incorrectly drawn by “Eight Is Enough” proponents. He contended that a local referendum could not affect the term for an office created, not by a local authority, but by the state constitution. Early in the debate, Rice promised not to seek reelection in 2004 to avoid the appearance of personal interest in the issue. Despite local legal setbacks and when others dropped out, Rice and the Clerk of the Circuit Court persevered and pursued an appeal on the issue to the Florida Supreme Court. In May 2002, the court upheld the Sheriff’s and the Clerk’s position in a 4-3 vote.
So, we can actually thank the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office for going against the people of Pinellas County and destroying the concept of term limits, keeping the door open to career politicians holding office forever. Rice was also known across Pinellas County for his enjoyment of alcoholic beverages, and many a story of old school good old boy deputies “assisting” him in getting home still circulate around Pinellas County today.
Rice also was first to bring in such “big brother” technology as Facial Recognition and other constitution violating tools such as license plate readers. Many of the programs initiated at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office are considered model applications of advancement of the police state in the law enforcement profession today.
Rice left the office of Sheriff in October 2004 to pursue a candidacy for Florida State Representative. He achieved that office in November, 2004, as he ran unopposed in that election. As promised, Rice did not seek reelection as Sheriff in 2004, however, he did resign just months before the end of his term so that he could once again, hand select his successor and uphold the tradition of “chain of command inbreeding” that has provided us with every sheriff to come after Rice, some say to help keep the skeletons safely in the closets. Rice was succeeded as Sheriff by his chief deputy, James “Jim” F. Coats after he was appointed to that office.
When Everette Rice later ran for a comeback to win the Sheriff’s election in 2012, he made several missteps along the way, allowing then Sheriff Robert Gualtieri to take the election by 57% of the vote. After being asked what he thinks changed the outcome, Rice said in a Tampa Bay Times Article that negative advertising by the Gualtieri campaign and the Times’ reporting on his overtures to the far right were the prime factors in voters’ decision to turn away from him. “Your newspaper cast me as some kind of right-wing nut. That’s what changed it,” he said.
THE THIRTEENTH SHERIFF OF PINELLAS COUNTY: 2004 (Appointed)
James F. Coats was the twelfth Pinellas County Sheriff reigning from 2004-2011 after once again using “chain of command inbreeding.” Chain of command inbreeding is the technique of a former Sheriff stepping down so that the former Sheriff can preselect the next sheriff. This is done through appointment, without voters’ input or approval.
“I would say that it’s one of the biggest political comebacks I’ve seen,” said state Sen. Jack Latvala, a Republican from Clearwater who served as a political consultant on Gualtieri’s campaign.
James “Jim” Coats began his long and productive career with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in 1971 as a deputy sheriff. Originally from New York, Coats served four years in the Air Force before turning his attention to law enforcement. During the course of his career, Coats worked to attain all ranks from patrol deputy to major in command of the Investigative Operations Bureau. Governor Lawton Chiles asked him to serve as interim Sheriff in Santa Rosa County in 1992 and Gulf County from 1994-95 while those sheriffs were under investigation. In 1995, Jim Coats was appointed to chief deputy by Sheriff Everett Rice. As second in-command, he assisted the Sheriff in managing one of the largest and most progressive law enforcement and corrections agencies in the United States. It was often said that Sheriff Coats ran the Sheriff’s office while his boss, Sheriff Rice, pursued “other interests” at local establishments.
Chief Deputy Coats announced his intentions to run for the Office of Sheriff as a Republican in 2002, however, he worked out a deal with Sheriff Rice where he didn’t really have to work as hard to win the election as a new candidate. Instead he was enabled to win it more easily as the incumbent. In October of 2004, just one month before the Election for Sheriff, Rice resigned as Sheriff to run for an open seat in the Florida House of Representatives, handing Coats the title and keys to the office of Sheriff.
Governor Jeb Bush appointed Coats as interim Sheriff until after the election; Coats won the election decisively. Coats has launched numerous initiatives focusing on performance-based management of the agency, in other words, quotas. Each deputy under Sheriff Coats was provided with “target numbers” of arrests, citations and a new tool called FIR’s that they had to hit. If they didn’t reach their quota, they suffered a poor “performance review”. A FIR, or Field Interview Report is the practice where PCSO deputies spot an innocent person or group of people committing no crime, and stop them. They interrogate them in hopes of being able to come up with some reason to cite or arrest them. The FIR heralded a new era of “lock-em-all-up” policing that would be embraced and expanded under Sheriff Coat’s handpicked predecessor, Robert Gualtieri. These programs launched an era of massive arrest numbers for minor and petty non-violent offences. It also laid massive tax burdens on the public such as a large increase in the number of officers and heavy capital improvement cost increases for more equipment, bigger jails and larger courthouses. This was all to handle the flood of minor arrests.
THE FOURTEENTH SHERIFF OF PINELLAS COUNTY: 2011 (Appointed)
This brings us in time to the current Sheriff of Pinellas County, Robert “Bob” Gualtieri who was appointed as Sheriff in 2011 after Jim Coats retired. With Coats’ backing, Gualtieri lined up big-name endorsements to help him stand out in a six-candidate field. Once in office by appointment, Gualtieri violated campaign laws by showing up for campaign functions like debates in his taxpayer-paid uniform. Coats hand-picked Gualtieri and had him appointed to give Gualtieri a massive advantage over other candidates through the use of the police industry’s “chain of command inbreeding” policy.
Gualtieri began his law enforcement career in 1982 as a detention deputy with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office; served as a patrol officer, Dunedin Police Department; returned to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office where he served in many law enforcement capacities from 1984 -1998; private law practice; general counsel, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, 2006 – 2008; chief deputy and general counsel, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, 2008 – 2011; appointed Sheriff of Pinellas County, 2011; elected Sheriff of Pinellas County, 2012; re-elected 2016.
Former Sheriff Everette Rice stated this about Gualtieri’s experience “The fact is he was never promoted to any rank – none. All the time he was at the Sheriff’s Office, he never even got promoted to the first level of sergeant,” says Rice. “And for him to put on this flyer ‘up through the ranks’ it’s just a falsehood. He’s trying to take credit for climbing up through the ranks, which is a complete lie.” Rice then accused Gualtieri of mismanagement.
Gualtieri stepped into office and right into his first massive scandal named “narc-gate” by the local media. In this scandal, it was discovered through criminal defense depositions that Pinellas County deputies were not just breaking the rules, they had thrown out the whole rule book and the Constitution along with it.
Apparently, deputies were using every illegal trick in the book going after Cannabis growers. They were putting cameras up at local hydroponic plant supply stores without a warrant, illegally entering people’s property without warrants, jumping fences without warrants, lying on warrant applications and falsifying evidence. In one case, PCSO deputies had borrowed a Progress Energy uniform and went to homes pretending to investigate electrical problems to gain access. Once inside these homes, they stole or damaged CCTV videos of themselves violating the law.
The local media gave Gualtieri credit for “handling” the problem, but all Sheriff Gualtieri did was allow the offending deputies to resign and walk out the door with their pensions intact and a lifetime paycheck from the taxpayers of Pinellas County. Not one single deputy was arrested or held criminally accountable for the perjury, false statements and fourth amendment violations. They faced zero discipline by Gualtieri. The charges against 28 people in 18 cases were thrown out because of corrupt policing.
Former Sheriff Everette Rice accused Gualtieri of mismanagement. He cited an internal affairs investigation of the narcotics division which resulted in the firing of several detectives. “I think if you look between the ones who were fired and the ones under investigation, there’s almost like a culture of corruption with some of the detectives,” says Rice. Gualtieri was second in command at this time and should have been well aware of the corruption going on right under his nose, but he claimed he didn’t know a thing and it was all former Sheriff Jim Coats fault. A fine thank you to Coats, the man that handed him the Sheriff’s job.
“There’s still ongoing investigations. The State Attorney had to drop at least 18 drug cases because of his cop’s misconduct. In my tenure, we only had 3 or 4 cases like that, over 16 years. This guy, as soon as he got appointed sheriff by the governor – he went about rebranding the Sheriff’s Office in his name,” says Rice. “He got rid of all the stationary and all the paperwork and all the things the Sheriff’s Office has with the sheriff’s name on it – and threw it all away and had it redone in his name. Put his name on a cruiser. And the list goes on and on of the things he’s done that I would not do” said Everette Rice in a Tampa Bay News Article from 2012.
This was far from the only scandal that would taint Gualtieri’s star over the years. There was Pinellas County Sheriff’s Deputy Paul Martin that had over 33 complaints, investigations and disciplinary measures over the last ten years Gualtieri was in charge. The verified complaints included buying drugs, lying, falsifying reports, threatening people, beating his wife, prostitution, domestic violence injunctions, tipping off drug dealers he used, having sex on duty, soliciting a 12 year old for sex in exchange for a tent and some gummy bears (he even showed up at the girl’s home with the tent, candy and a flashlight). There were even news reports about Deputy Martin asking “why does this deputy still have a badge and a gun”. Deputy Martin was finally fired after a social worker witnessed him making horrible sexual statements and reaching up the shirt of an underaged rape victim.
Gualtieri used Martin’s termination to end the other investigations on an Internal Affairs level, and never pursued any criminal charges against deputy Martin. And, just like all of the others, Deputy Martin left with his pension intact and a lifetime of paychecks out of the pockets of Pinellas County taxpayers.
There were even two cases where Deputy Martin’s own coworkers reported that he was mentally unstable and a danger to others, including a report from Sean Jowell, now second in command under Gualtieri.
Sheriff Gualtieri’s signature appears all over the Deputy Martin files, including Gualtieri’s discipline actions for Martin, which seldom occurred. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri covered and protected this deputy even to the point of sending PCSO command staff over to the Child Protective Investigations unit to stop the investigation into Deputy Martin soliciting a 12 year old girl for sex in exchange for a tent and some gummy bears. Gualtieri’s staff instructed Child Protective Investigations to end the investigation and not interview the deputy or the father that had provided the text messages showing Martin soliciting the child. In a separate case that Gualtieri buried, Deputy Paul Martin’s naked photos with an erection were found on an electronic device in the backpack of a 9 year old girl. Gualtieri protected Deputy Martin from investigation and charges in that case too.
Gualtieri’s protection of Deputy Paul Martin was also a sore spot for other deputies that did not want to work with him or be around him and it as common knowledge at the PCSO as far back as when Gualtieri first took office.
OTHER SCANDALS UNDER GUALTIERI’S WATCH
* Deputy Howard Skaggs violated the PCSO vehicle chase policy and chased three 14 to15 year old black girls, without his emergency lights, into a pond at the back of a cemetery and stood by for over 5 minutes (with several other deputies) while they screamed and drowned.
This made international news and was an embarrassment to the county. Gualtieri refused to even open an investigation because he claimed, “my deputies did nothing wrong.” Deputy Skaggs had previously chased another black teen into a pond and drowned them a few years earlier. How many black teens does a Pinellas County Sheriff have to chase into a pond and drown before they get into trouble with Sheriff Gualtieri? Apparently more than four.
* A deputy was caught in store video (Gualtieri still refuses to get body cams), fabricating charges that a woman had assaulted him. The video shows he attacked her unprovoked. The deputy was fired, but never charged for lying, having the young black woman falsely arrested or for his assault on her. This deputy tried to have this innocent woman put in jail for a minimum 10 years for assault of a police officer, and he walked away without any criminal charges thanks to Sheriff Gualtieri.
* Pinellas County Sheriff Deputy Timothy Virden shot a handcuffed complaint suspect twice in the stomach for saying he was “not a real man.” Sheriff Gualtieri then went on local news and claimed Deputy Virden was a “hero” and had done “exactly what he was trained to do.” Gualtieri also told the press that the victim had tried to take the deputies gun and tried to murder the deputy, which was totally false. Later it was determined that Virden lied when he claimed the man tried to take his gun and kill him.
Virden was protected by Gualtieri and State Attorney Bernie McCabe, released on only $2,000 bond and later sentenced to just two years’ probation and non-adjudication. It was never adjudicated, meaning as if the case never happened, that way Virden could keep his pension at the taxpayer’s expense. Once again, Gualtieri made sure that Virden was not held accountable for having falsely accused the man he shot of trying to kill a police officer. The man survived and is suing the Sheriff’s Office. Gualtieri is using taxpayer funds to fight the case in order to stop reparation to the victim.
* Sheriff Gualtieri once again made global news when he refused to arrest Michael Drejke after the white Drejke shot an unarmed black man over a dispute over a parking spot.
Sheriff Gualtieri refused to arrest Drejke, saying he had a legal right to shoot the man because he has pushed him. This action resulted in massive protests not seen in decades in Pinellas County with civil rights leaders staging marches in the county. Gualtieri further embarrassed himself and the county by telling the black civil rights leader Sharpton to “go back home and mind your own business,” Gualtieri was eventually ordered to arrest Drejke by the State Attorney and was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison, proving Gualtieri wrong. Gualtieri refuses to comment on the issue to this day.
* Gualtieri once again made national news when it was reported that he would shoot people that “open carried” firearms in Pinellas County.
* Sheriff Gualtieri has had dozens deputies in trouble for DUI, lying, falsifying reports, thefts, drunk brawls, domestic violence and other malfeasance and corruption and they rarely ever face criminal prosecution. When they do, their sentence is minimal.
* A Sheriff Deputy puts nails in a single mother’s driveway. Another classic case of a deputy with severe issues being a PCSO officer. Again, no criminal charges.
* Sheriff Gualtieri even went so far as to reveal his own racist tendencies when he became angry at a black woman for pulling in front of him at a traffic light. Gualtieri violated his own chase policies, pulled the woman over and then grabbed her by the hair trying to pull her out of the car, yanking half of her hair out of her head in the process. He called ten cars for backup and he and his deputies tasered her three times for good measure. He then had deputies listen in on her calls from the jail. Sheriff Gualtieri set the example of how deputies would treat minorities by setting this example in person.
* In another scandal and waste of taxpayer resources, Sheriff Gualtieri authorized the purchase of $300,000 worth of AR-15 rifles from Adams Arms, a local company. It seems that a training officer had recommended the rifles and several in the command staff had been treated to a tour of the facility and received free or heavily discounted rifles. After the purchase, it was discovered that the rifles were in Gualtieri’s words, “useless”. “Pull the trigger and it didn’t go bang” Gualtieri said.
* A Pinellas County Corporal names Shawn Pappas was personally promoted by Sheriff Gualtieri to the important position of training all new recruits. However, shortly thereafter, Deputy Pappas pulled out his penis, placed in on a table and took photos of it in front of a class of new recruits, some of them women. After complaints were filed, his phone was seized to determine if there were such photos. Investigators were shocked to find much more. There were photos depicting horribly racist images, porn and multiple videos of Pinellas Corporal Pappas doing the most bizarre things, while on duty. Again, Pappas was allowed to retire with a lifetime paycheck from the taxpayers of Pinellas County. This information on Corporal Shawn Pappas was revealed to the media by Sheriff’s Candidate James McLynas after McLynas filed an Amicus Brief blocking the Pinellas County Sheriff from being released from the 1988 Consent Decree the DOJ was enforcing for racist policies at the Sheriff’s Office.
* Sheriff Gualtieri personally went before the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners on May 16, 2019 and spoke for over an hour on how poor the PCSO was, how they had to do without so many things, their massive budget shortfalls and how badly they needed money.
Sheriff Gualtieri stated over and over again that the PCSO was “robbing Peter to pay Paul” and that there was not nearly enough money to pay for the bare essentials. Yet, on September 24, 2019, just four months later, Sheriff Gualtieri purchased a $1.5 million dollar 10-passenger airplane without mentioning a single word about it in the budget meeting just five months earlier.
Gualtieri himself stated on May 16, 2019 that the Sheriff’s office had zero reserves and could not afford things like medications for inmates or enough officers and needed new patrol cars desperately with hat in hand begging the BCC for more money. They gave him an additional $3.5 million. There is no doubt that Sheriff Gaultieri was well aware of his intention to purchase that plane at the time of the 5-16-19 BCC budget meeting. In fact, he casually mentioned he would be needing a new hanger out at the airport. Then, out of the blue, an “extra” $1.5 million appears out of nowhere.
The media picked up on the story and went to interview Sheriff Gualtieri on the subject of the new plane purchase. Gualtieri refused to explain why he purchased the aircraft, where he got the $1.5 million from when it was not in his approved budget for this year or last year, and what he would be using this luxury aircraft for as Sheriff. Even though this information is by law public record, Gualtieri illegally and criminally (under Title X, Chapter 119.10) refused to produce any records related to the purchase. Many speculate that Gualtieri has his eye on the Governor’s seat and wants to use the aircraft to increase his name recognition across the state at the expense of Pinellas County taxpayers.
Sheriff Gualtieri stated in his early campaigning in the 2012 election that “I want to get to the bottom of this and root it all out and deal with it effectively and hold people accountable,” Gualtieri said. “If there is wrongdoing, why don’t they come to me?” Perhaps nobody goes to Sheriff Gualtieri with their issues of corruption, because they know he will take no action, and may be at the center of the corruption himself.
* Another scam perpetrated by Sheriff Gualtieri against the people of Pinellas County is the “double dipping” scheme Sheriff Gualtieri uses to make PCSO deputies millionaires at taxpayer expense, and also buy off their loyalty to prevent them from running against him for Sheriff.
On the left of this photograph is none other than our current Sheriff Robert Gualtieri, back when he had hair. This photo is from a drug bust from the late 1980’s. To Gualtieri’s immediate right is current PCSO Assistant Chief Deputy George Steffen.
Sheriff Gualtieri arranged it so that his good buddy, George Steffen, could retire and take home a single “DROP” payment of $570,847 in 2015 along with a lifetime pension of $8,970, or $107,640 a year. He obtained such a large pension by loading up his last three years of service with overtime. You see, PCSO pension is determined by averaging out a deputy’s last three year’s salary. So Gualtieri allows his retiring deputies to receive as many of the cushy overtime assignments as they can handle so that they can defraud Pinellas County taxpayers out of hundreds of times that hourly rate for the rest of their lives. Each single hour of Steffen’s overtime during the last three years of his last employment has cost Pinellas taxpayers tens of thousand of dollars per hour in future inflated pension payments.
The “DROP” program is designed as an incentive to get older, long term deputies with large annual salaries to retire to make room for new blood so that good people do not leave the PCSO because there is no positions open in upper management. However, AFTER receiving the $570,847 check under the “DROP” program to retire, Sheriff Gualtieri then REHIRED his buddy George. Gualtieri even created an entirely new job title for him that previously did not exist, an “Assistant Deputy Chief” with an annual salary of $149,350 that is likely now well over $150,000 with raises and benefits.
Steffen is paid $256,990 every single month out of Pinellas taxpayer’s pockets. That’s $21,415 per month, $4,942 a week and $123.55 an hour, to be a Pinellas County deputy. If you add in the Drop payment, that’s $6,665 per week or about $1,000 per day, every single day for last five years, including the year he did not even work for the Sheriff during his brief “retirement”. To put that into perspective, the highest-ranking public servant in the entire State of Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis, has a salary of $130,273 per year. DeSantis’ entire net worth in 2018 was $284,605, a little more than just one year of PCSO Deputy Steffen’s annual compensation.
So, let us all do the math together. Steffen received $570,847 in one single DROP check in February of 2015. Steffen also received a pension of $107,640 for the last five years. After waiting the required one year before he could be rehired, Steffen also received over $149,350 for the last four years. That is a total of $1,733,000 in compensation within the last five years out of the pockets of hard-working Pinellas citizens, paid to one single Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputy because of his cozy relationship with Pinellas County Sheriff Robert Gualtieri. The real shocking part is that Deputy George Steffen is just one of many PCSO deputies double-dipping Pinellas County taxpayers thanks to Sheriff Gualtieri. Deputies becoming millionaires while most Pinellas citizens struggle to make ends meet.
SHERIFF GUALTIERI’S LARGEST SCANDAL
By far, Sheriff Robert Gualtieri’s largest and most damaging scandal against the people of Pinellas County is how he has expanded spending on the “Pinellas County Punishment Machine” to such ludicrous levels. Sheriff Gualtieri has dug deeper into the pockets of the taxpayers to the point of spending quite possibly more than ALL of the previous Sheriffs COMBINED. It started from literally the first minute Gualtieri was appointed. He immediately “rebranded” the Sheriff’s office to bear his own name to give him a taxpayer funded advantage in the next election.
Former Sheriff Everette Rice stated “This guy, as soon as he got appointed sheriff by the governor – he went about rebranding the Sheriff’s Office in his name,” says Rice. “He got rid of all the stationary and all the paperwork and all the things the Sheriff’s Office has with the sheriff’s name on it – and threw it all away and had it redone in his name. Put his name on a cruiser. And the list goes on and on of the things he’s done that I would not do,” said Rice.
Sheriff Gualtieri clapped back at Rice stating “In the time that Everett was sheriff, he increased the general fund budget by $80 million”. If Sheriff Gualtieri thought $80 million was bad in the fifteen years Sheriff Rice was in office, Sheriff Gualtieri has increased the Sheriff’s Budget by over $118 million in only nine years. That’s an increase of Sheriff Rice of over $5.33 million each year, as compared to Sheriff Gualtieri’s increase of $13.11 million each year on average. At this pace, if Gualtieri remains in office for as many years as Sheriff Rice, he will have increased spending a whopping $196,666,666. In Sheriff Gualtieri’s nine years in office he has expanded the budget by a massive 57% and was warning the Board of County Commissioners that he will be back for much more next year.
Using the history of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office above, we can see exactly how massive these increases are, historically. Since Sheriff Gualtieri has been in office, he has spent well over $2,334,220,000 in taxpayer funds in just the nine years he has been in office and that does not even include the millions he spent finishing off Jim Coats’ last term. That’s over $2,400 for every man, woman and child living in Pinellas County.
However, that $2.3 Billion is not all that Gualtieri has pushed the county to spend.
There is the brand new Sheriff’s Office Administration Building at $81 Million.
Then there is the newly refurbished $28,000,000 North Sheriff’s Station that sits on land not owned by the County, so there is another $563,000 in annual rent paid to man named Joe Kokolakis.
Then there is the new $100,000,000 jail complex, because you have to have someplace to put the 45,000 Pinellas County residents you plan to arrest.
Or course you will also need a whole new courthouse to process all of these soon to be prisoners at a cost of $45,000,000.
There are so many examples of Sheriff Gualtieri’s mismanagement and waste, that it would take hundreds of pages to detail them all. Here are just few;
* Sheriff Gualtieri contracts with the Federal government to house about 300 Federal inmates every day. The contract he signed pays the county (you) $88 per inmate. However, it costs the taxpayers of Pinellas County $124 per day to house these same inmates. So, based on the Sheriff’s agreement, the people of Pinellas County are paying $10,800 per day to house Federal inmates that aren’t even their responsibility. If that is not bad enough, Gualtieri claims that because the jail is short staffed, he pays overtime, (time and a half) to every deputy that must watch over those 300 Federal prisoners. At the May 16, 2019 Board of County Commission budget meeting, Sheriff Gualtieri asked for $1,300,000 of your money to pay this shortfall.
* With the Covid-19 outbreak, Sheriff Robert Gualtieri had to admit that due to the pandemic, arrests in the county have decreased from an average of 130 arrests per day down to 30. On March 16, 2020, Gualtieri sent an email to all police agencies in Pinellas County requesting that officers use “good judgment and decision-making” on whether to make an arrest that would result in a jail booking. Gualtieri pointed out other options, such as notices to appear in court, which “carry the same weight as an arrest without requiring a jail stay”. If Gualtieri arrests about 47,450 people a year (130×365) and now he only arrests 30, because the rest can be handled with a civil citation and notice to appear, that means that Sheriff Gualtieri himself admits that about 36,500 people do not need to be arrested each and every year. That means that literally 70% of the people Sheriff Gualtieri crams into that new $100,000,000 jail, really don’t need to be there and did not need to be arrested. So, why are the people of Pinellas County being billed for these massive unnecessary costs by Sheriff Gualtieri?
* Having a jail filled to capacity is only the start of the expenses being passed onto the people of Pinellas. Each PCSO deputy at the jail costs taxpayers $104,000 a year, and another $80,000 for life when they retire.
* At the 5-16-19 BCC budget meeting, Sheriff Gualtieri asked for another $1,300,000 for HIV medications. Apparently, over 160 inmates at the jail are HIV positive, and the law states that once they are in jail, no insurance or Medicaid will pay for HIV medications, the people of Pinellas are forced to pay $1,600 per week, per inmate for their HIV medications. That is almost $7,000 per month and $83,200 per year, per inmate in just HIV medications. If you add in the regular cost of housing an inmate of $124 per day, that is a total of $128,460 PER INMATE. That is a cost of a Harvard education plus room and board, per inmate. What crime must an inmate commit to be worth $128,460 per year of taxpayer money to keep them locked up? You the people of Pinellas pick up the tab.
There are literally millions of dollars being spent by Sheriff Gualtieri and the “Pinellas County Punishment Machine” on things like a new roof for the old jail, new camera systems and the largest of all, the $1.4 billion dollar pension fund that is set aside out of taxpayer pockets for so that the hardworking people of Pinellas can make sure their public servants have a very comfortable retirement at their expense. Even if Pinellas County residents had the income of Beverly Hills, this massive spending would be considered way over the top. For the most part, the people of Pinellas are hardworking people struggling to pay their bills, and that’s what makes the financial corruption of Sheriff Gualtieri so harmful to the people of Pinellas.
These issues and many others are why out of every single one of the 14 Sheriffs that existed in Pinellas County, Sheriff Robert Gualtieri is by far the worst. Is it possible that Sheriff Gaultieri has spent more than all other previous sheriffs combined?
Hopefully, the people of Pinellas County will elect a new Sheriff that will be a better steward of the people’s money and trust.
1. Tampa Bay Times 12-28-2017
2. DAYS OF FEAR: A LYNCHING IN ST. PETERSBURG by Jon L. Wilson
3. A History or Pinellas County Florida by W.L. Straub
4. Grismer, History of St. Petersburg, p. 85; Evening Independent, June 24, 1913.
5. Tribune, November 13, 1914; Evening Independent, November 11-13, 1914; Times, November 13, 1914
6. Donald L. Grant, The Anti-Lynching Movement: 1883-1932 (San Francisco, 1975), p. 11.
- Luther Atkins, untaped interview, November 29, 1981; Zangrando, The NAACP Crusade, p. 3.
8. The Constitutional Sheriffs Of Pinellas County, a Brief History