NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Three North Port Police officers are being investigated in a more recent, separate incident from the sexual battery investigation into officers Melanie Turner and Ricky Urbina. Police Chief Kevin Vespia admits the negative attention has had an impact on the department.
The public perception these days is more along the lines of what the heck is going on in North Port? With so many officers under investigation at once, the chief tells ABC 7 it's the actions of a few and that they are doing everything they can to make sure they have the public’s trust.
Two officers are accused of sexual battery, with one of them taking his own life. Another is investigated for harassment, and two more are on leave for undisclosed reasons.
"We seem to have an influx of complaints, which will be investigated." Chief Kevin Vespia says it hasn't been easy, but something good could come from it. "As painful as this journey has been, we are still in a healing process with tragedy along the way, but I think we will be a stronger more professional department in the end."
It’s hard to heal though until there is an actual resolution. "The internal investigations are ongoing. They will be concluded soon."
Vespia says they can't talk specifics yet. They have brought in former Sarasota County ethics coordinator Steve Uebelacker to head the investigations. "Until we have the facts on everything, we cannot really speculate. Once we know the facts we can make a determination. It could be that a poor decision was made. With that there is consequence."
One of the five officers is a sergeant who is retiring. Thursday the department announced they could not prove or disprove claims against him. “That was an internal complaint involving harassment. It had no relation to the other incident. The end result was a not sustained."
Vespia says there is no conspiracy or covering anything up. He's even suggested a third party come in to assess the entire department. "I think it is a great opportunity to have an organization come in and make sure we are meeting the industry standards. We are trying to meet a level of excellence. I don't have any problem with it. I am the one who recommended it to the city manager."
Vespia says he wants the truth to come out as much as anyone, saying the issues are wearing on the more than 150 employees within the department doing all the right things. "It has been quite a challenge going through this type of issue, but they still go out there every day and protect our citizens."
Vespia says he believes the internal investigations will be complete in the next two weeks.