After utilizing unlawful surveillance of hydroponic stores and pot-sniffing detectives, maybe it’s time for Pinellas County (Florida) Sheriff Bob Gualtieri to move on to busting a new drug – or maybe it’s time for voters to move on to a new sheriff – though the alternative isn’t very appealing either.
Sheriff Gualtieri’s narcs were exposed for installing a surveillance camera outside a Largo, FL retailer called Simply Hydroponics after it was reported in 2010-11 detectives would write down the vehicle registration numbers of customers exiting the stores and then use that information to locate their residences with the intent of building cases against suspected growers.
Pinellas’ narcotics agents have also been busted for illegally accessing utility records of pot growing suspects – and then intentionally misleading an investigation into their blatant abuse of power. Two of the detectives who obtained the Process Energy records were transferred from narcotics to patrol.
Gualtieri’s sheriffs gained national coverage (and ridicule, in some circles) when it was reported that they obtained search warrants by standing outside of a suspected cultivator’s home and allegedly “smelling” marijuana growing inside the residence. The cops are said to have also illegally trespassed on suspects’ property, looking inside windows like Peeping Toms in search of visual confirmation of a pot grow.
The Tampa Bay Times recently reported a Pinellas narcotics detective had actually worn a Process Energy uniform (obtained from a friend who is a Process employee), posing as a utility worker in approaching a suspect’s house. When informed of this by the Times, Gualtieri was reportedly appalled, yet seemed impressed by the young detective’s “creativity.” If true, this seemingly serves as a representation of Sheriff Gualtieri’s disconnect from proper and acceptable law enforcement procedures.
On the positive side, pending marijuana grow house cases in Pinellas County are now being rightly threatened by defense attorney strategies to portray all grow cases to be tainted by the improper police tactics.
All of this cannabis chicanery has forced Sheriff Gualtieri into launching fifteen internal affairs investigations into the officers’ malfeasance (one deputy already resigned rather than face the scrutiny of a misconduct probe), taking down the camera in front of Simply Hydroponics while pledging to prioritize heroin and pain pills over pot – but will it be enough to save his job?
Fellow Republican, and former Pinellas Sheriff, Everett Rice is challenging Gualtieri in this fall’s election for county sheriff. Rice has criticized Gualtieri repeatedly in the media. However, Rice’s own past as top sheriff is questionable, with detectives serving under him also having engaged in unethical practices, including gathering illegal evidence and calling in their own “anonymous tips” about pot growers.
Seems like Pinellas County voters deserve another menu option for top sheriff.