Manatee sheriff's deputy says real reason he was fired is that he is gay

jdeleon@bradenton.comOctober 4, 2013 

MANATEE -- A Manatee County sheriff's deputy, fired for what the sheriff's office said was his involvement with anabolic steroids, claims he was terminated because he is gay.

Robert Craig, 35, was terminated after an undercover operation into the buying and selling of steroids by deputies. Craig and three other deputies were fired, including two who have been criminally charged.

Craig is fighting his termination, claiming he never had any interest in purchasing the drugs, but was interested in a sexual relationship with a former deputy.

An internal affairs investigation determined there was improper conduct, and the sheriff's office moved to fire him for "conduct unbecoming an officer."

Craig will go before a Career Services Board at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday to appeal his firing.

Craig said he was given the option of resigning or being terminated. The deputy refused to resign and insists his homosexuality becoming public is why he is really being fired.

"That is absolutely ridiculous," Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube said. "The investigation stands for itself. The guy was negotiating for steroids and that is conduct unbecoming."

According to the internal affairs investigation report, Craig's "partaking in a conversation regarding the sale

and purchase of illegal narcotic is inconsistent with law enforcement practices."

Three other deputies implicated in the steroid investigation chose not to appeal their firings.

Former deputies Thomas John Frank, 45, and Christopher Tucker, 39, resigned from the department when allegations against them surfaced in August. Days later, Frank and Tucker were arrested on charges of possession of anabolic steroids.

A third deputy involved, Thomas Bryon Peel Sr., was terminated Aug. 2 for conduct unbecoming but is not facing criminal charges.

Craig began his tenure at the Manatee County Sheriff's Office in 2009 as a child protection investigator. Craig said he hid his homosexuality because of his father.

"I always hid the fact I was gay out of respect for my dad," Craig said. "After my dad passed away I needed to confide in someone, so I told him."

Craig said he confided in a former deputy, the informant in the internal affairs investigation, who he had remained friendly with over their years, even being supportive as each lost their father to cancer.

"He then sent me a couple pictures of himself, that led me to believe he may be interested," Craig said.

In recent months, Craig said the former deputy reached out to him through a text message. Casual conversations about Craig's weight loss led the former deputy to tell him about a natural testosterone supplement he was selling, according to Craig. Craig said subsequent conversations were fueled by his desire to become sexually involved with the man.

The next week, Craig, who said he had no interest in supplements or bulking up, mentioned to one of his fellow deputies he knew someone who could save him money on his supplements. Only when his co-worker pointed it out, did Craig say he realized it was steroids the former deputy was offering to sell him.

"That stuff you were trying to sell me, I'm really not interested, no thank you," Craig said he told the former deputy on the phone the next day.

Craig said he doesn't feel he has done anything to lose his job.

"That is exactly the kind of conduct of an officer should demonstrate," Craig said, adding he planned to report the former deputy for selling illegal narcotics after he returned to work from his days off.

A Manatee County Sheriff's Office statement indicates it does not tolerate harassment or discrimination of its employees and does not discriminate based on race, gender or sexuality.

"Former deputy Robert Craig was negotiating for the purchase of illegal steroids while on duty and in doing so, violated MSO's General Orders of Conduct Unbecoming a Deputy," the statement said.

Jessica De Leon, law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.

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