The union that represents police officers in Melbourne wants Chief David Gillespie fired over allegations he retaliated against a former officer and claims that he tried to put a permanent mark on her record when she left the department.
Officer Brittney Skovsgard was disciplined by the Melbourne PD for falsifying time sheets, getting an 80-hour suspension without pay. She resigned on July 13, 2018, as soon as the investigation became public. Skovsgard then took a job with the West Melbourne Police Department.
Mike Scudiero, the head of the Coastal Florida Police Benevolent Association, claims after she resigned, Gillespie tried to stain her record by claiming the investigation against her was still open.
On May 5, 2018, the city sent Skovsgard a letter informing her the investigation against her was complete and that she would be punished with a two-week suspension. Within ten days, she filed a grievance against that suspension which is now the heart of the dispute.
Scudiero insisted filing a grievance does not reopen an investigation–and Gillespie knows it.
“Chief Gillespie went above and beyond the norms – potentially to a criminal level – by falsely claiming this officer resigned while being investigated, knowing full well that the investigation had been completed at least two months before she submitted her resignation,” Scudiero said. “Worse, this may prove to be a part of a pattern of such behavior engaged in by Gillespie for the purpose of sabotaging the careers of police officers who dared to leave the agency for greener pastures.”
The union is insisting that Skovsgard’s future promotions at the West Melbourne PD, her current employer, could be impacted by the signature by the chief on a form in her file claiming she resigned while under investigation
“We believe this behavior may be both criminal on the part of the chief and a potential civil liability for the city,” Scudiero said. “This shameful, malicious attempt to smear the work and reputation of a good officer months after her resignation cannot be tolerated. The chief has undeniably attempted to destroy the livelihood of officers he doesn’t like. It really is as simple as that. This is having a debilitating effect on the morale of the department, has and will continue to stymie recruiting, and will do nothing to help a diminished retention rate that has grown steadily under his watch. The only recourse is for the chief to resign, but faced with the facts of this matter, he has stubbornly refused and has let it be known he would rather dig in to fight, even if it means a public battle. So that’s what we will give him! Only the city of Melbourne administration can help to end this sad chapter and rescue this department now.”
The city government disagrees and went to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) for help on the matter. Chris Bufano, the general counsel for the FDLE, reviewed the case and sent City Manager Shannon Lewis an opinion via email.
“In the current circumstance as FDLE understands it, although the internal affairs investigation had concluded with certain findings of fact and discipline to be imposed, the employee filed a grievance to those findings and proposed discipline,” Bufano wrote.” As such, at the time the employee separated from employment with the agency the matter was open for potential reversal or amendment following conclusion of the dispute resolution. As the employee resigned during the pendency of the grievance and final resolution of the sustained misconduct and proposed discipline, the agency head’s characterization of the separation reason on the Form 61 appears to be reasonably supported by the facts”
Lewis said that is enough for the city to back Gillespie.
“I support the chief,” Lewis said. “It appears from our review and the review of FDLE that the actions he took were appropriate and reasonable based on the facts….. This allegation has been finalized, so I have closed that matter administratively in my office. However, fostering good relationships with the union is important. Fostering good relationships with all employees of the city is important, so we are committed to continuing to work with the union on any specific issues they have in the future.”
Future relations may turn out to be difficult for the city and the police union. The is the first time in more than six years that the Coastal Florida PBA has called for the resignation of a chief and claims the retaliatory actions of Gillespie has damaged the union’s relationship with the city.
Reach Mike Synan at Mike.Synan@floridadaily.com.