Former Manatee sheriff's deputy termination upheld

jdeleon@bradenton.comOctober 10, 2013 

MANATEE -- The termination of former Manatee County Sheriff's Office deputy Robert Craig was upheld by a five-member review panel Wednesday.

Craig was fired in early August after an investigation into steroids being purchased by deputies. While he never actually purchased steroids, the Office of Professional Standards found Craig had demonstrated "conduct unbecoming an officer" for being involved in a transaction to buy them.

A Career Services Appeal Board voted unanimously to sustain the violation of "conduct unbecoming an officer" against Craig, and then voted 4-1 to uphold the decision to terminate him based on the charge.

"What we have is unethical behavior," Maj. Connie Shingledecker said. "An employee who acted on behalf of his own personal interests."

Craig requested the hearing, saying he was fired for being gay and had never had any intention of purchasing steroids. Craig said his true motivation was a sexual attraction to an informant -- Jack Coate, a former deputy also possibly facing charges for selling steroids.

Coate allegedly tried to sell Craig what he thought was natural testosterone-boosting supplements.

After a day of testimony, the panel decided Craig's actions violated the Manatee County Sheriff's Office code of ethics for deputies.

"We are held to a higher standard as law enforcement officers," Shingledecker said.

Craig expressed regret for his actions after the ruling, but still felt he did not deserve to be fired.

"I am disappointed, but I am not surprised," Craig said. "I learned a good lesson."

Craig said he will continue to appeal his termination by filing a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He said he plans to continue a career in law enforcement elsewhere.

Enforcement Bureau Chief Maj. Dennis Dummer, who conducted a just cause hearing after the conduct unbecoming charges being were brought against Craig, testified Wednesday on his findings. Despite finding Craig's testimony to be truthful, it did not overshadow what actually happened, Dummer said.

"He was fired for going to the point of discussing the transaction for his own personal agenda," Dummer said. "He knew what he was getting into. He chose to do this for his own personal interest."

In making his determination, Dummer said he looked at the facts, took into account how important discipline is to the department and how fundamental it is to have the public's trust.

"There are certain behaviors that make someone no longer fit for duty," Dummer said. "Illegal drugs are a plague to our society."

Three other deputies are no longer with the sheriff's office as a result of the same investigation.

Former deputies Thomas John Frank, 45, and Christopher Tucker, 39, are facing criminal charges for possession of anabolic steroids. Both resigned just days before their August arrests.

A third deputy, Thomas Bryon Peel Sr., was terminated in August for conduct unbecoming but faces no criminal charges.

Craig's career with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office began in 2009 as a child protection investigator. He hid his homosexuality out of respect for his father, he 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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