Polk County deputies charged with evidence tampering

Polk County deputies charged with evidence tampering
(Source: SOURCE: WYFF News 4)

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WWSB) - Three Polk County Sheriff’s deputies have lost their jobs after being arrested Friday in connection with an evidence tampering investigation, officials say.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office arrested three deputies and charged them with felonies related to evidence tampering. All three resigned upon their arrest.

The investigation began when a suspect, who was arrested on Dec. 21, 2020, inquired last week about the return of her personal property. She said she was missing $723 and her cell phone. At that time, supervisors who were alerted to the missing property immediately began an investigation.

The original arrest occurred after a traffic stop in Winter Haven, during which the deputy who pulled her over, Deputy John Raczynski, conducted a search of her vehicle and found narcotics and cash. Two other deputies arrived as backup units, Deputy Jamal Lawson and Deputy Garrett Cook.

Raczynski documented in his report that in addition to the narcotics, the driver was found to have a large amount of U.S. currency inside her right pants pocket, with denominations “consistent with small narcotic sales.”

On Dec. 23, Raczynski placed 13 items of evidence in a property and evidence storage locker at his substation. The currency, which he documented in the probable cause affidavit and PCSO incident report, was not listed as an item of evidence, nor was it logged in the arrestee’s property at the jail.

During the investigation, detectives found a supplemental report created by Raczynski on March 16, adding an item of evidence in the “Property insert” portion of the report, U.S. Currency, valued at $723. Raczynski electronically signed the report, and the report was electronically notary approved - officially witnessed - by Cook. This electronic notary was later determined to be fraudulent.

Raczynski offered to “make it right” by submitting their own money into evidence to replace it. A sergeant instructed Raczynski that was not proper procedure, and to take no further action. An internal and criminal investigation was initiated at that time.

On March 19, detectives interviewed Lawson. He confirmed the events of the original arrest and that a large amount of money was removed from the arrestee. He gave conflicting stories of where the money was placed after being seized but then said that a couple of days later, Raczynski noticed the money was missing and asked Lawson and Cook about it. Lawson said at that time they discussed a plan to each contribute money to replace it, and submit it into evidence, but that never happened. Raczynski called Lawson on March 15, at which time Lawson sent Raczynski $500 via CashApp. The plan was for Raczynski to add the remaining $223 of his own money, and submit it to P&E.

When that attempt failed, Lawson asked for the money back via CashApp.

Sufficient probable cause was established to charge Lawson with:

  • Conspiracy to commit tampering with evidence, for conspiring with Cook and Raczynski in unlawful tampering or fabricating evidence
  • Official misconduct, for knowingly and intentionally causing another person to falsify an official record to cover up the loss of evidence
  • Tampering or fabricating evidence, by transferring money to Raczynski via the CashApp, knowing it was to be unlawfully submitted as evidence

Sufficient probable cause was established to charge Cook with conspiracy to commit tampering with evidence, for conspiring with Lawson and Raczynski in unlawful tampering or fabricating evidence.

Sufficient probable cause was established to charge Raczynski with:

  • Conspiracy to commit tampering with evidence, for conspiring with Lawson and Cook in unlawful tampering or fabricating evidence
  • Official misconduct, for knowingly and intentionally falsifying an official record to cover up the loss of evidence
  • Tampering or fabricating evidence, by obtaining money to submit into evidence, knowing it was to be unlawfully submitted
  • Forgery, for forging another deputy’s signature to his report
  • Uttering a forged instrument, for publishing as true a false and forged record

Raczynski, Lawson, and Cook were all booked into the Polk County Jail, and later released after posting bond.

John Raczynski is 24 years old. He was hired as a detention deputy in October 2017 and transferred to law enforcement as a deputy sheriff in December 2017. Jamal Lawson is 29 years old. He was hired as a detention deputy in October 2017 and transferred to law enforcement as a deputy sheriff in December 2017. Garrett Cook is 26 years old. He was hired as a deputy sheriff in August 2016.

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