Skipping out on a few bills at a restaurant could soon cost two Bradenton Police officers their jobs, according to authorities.
An internal investigation will begin Monday against Chris D. Roden, 28, and Timothy S. Miller, 26, who allegedly left Gecko’s Grill and Pub, 4310 S.R. 64 E., without paying for meals on numerous occasions while on duty, according to court documents.
The officers remain employed by the department, but have been on unpaid suspension since Jan. 25, said Bradenton Police Deputy Chief William Tokajer.
The State Attorney’s Office recently declined to file criminal charges against the officers. Arrest charges had been forwarded from the police department to prosecutors, according to court documents.
“We felt strong enough we sent paperwork to the State Attorney’s Office for them to be charged,” Tokajer said. “The decline doesn’t mean they didn’t commit the crime. It doesn’t mean we don’t have a major obligation to the community to investigate this fully and hold our police officers to the highest standards and that their integrity is beyond reproach.”
Now both officers could face termination, Tokajer said. The internal investigation is expected to take approximately two weeks.
“We have to wait on the outcome of the department investigation,” he said. “Throughout our (criminal) investigation we found they did leave an establishment without paying.”
Chief Assistant State Attorney Ed Brodsky, who reviewed the case, said a decline was issued because the police department planned to impose “internal administrative sanctions” against the officers, and the restaurant’s general manager did not want to press charges.
“We took the complaint very seriously,” Brodsky said.
The investigation was initiated Jan. 6 after another police officer was told by a Gecko’s waiter that Miller and Roden failed to pay for meals about four to five times, Tokajer said.
Investigators were able to document at least three such occurrences, two with Roden and one with Miller, after pulling department communication records and restaurant transactions, Tokajer said.
According to court documents, on Oct. 17, Roden exited without paying for a food bill of $10.95. On Dec. 16, he ate $8.51 in food and exited without paying for his meal. On the same date, Miller ate $6.91 in food and exited the restaurant without paying. Both faced charges of obtaining food with the intent to defraud.
“There is no evidence that Officer Roden returned and made payment to the business for either of these purchases. There were other on-duty police officers present when these crimes occurred, and they did not witness Officer Roden make payment on either of the above dates,” court documents said.
Roden faced an additional charge of tampering with a witness after he reportedly told a Gecko’s waiter and another officer that he was a suspect in the case and that he couldn’t pay for his meal on one occasion because of a shooting call, court documents said.
Both Miller and Roden told investigators they forgot to pay for their food once on Dec. 15, when they were called to respond to a shooting. When the restaurant pulled transaction records, both men paid for their meals that date, according to court documents.
In reference to the Oct. 17 and Dec. 16 incidents, Tokajer said police records showed no emergency calls that could have prompted Miller and Roden to abruptly leave the restaurant.
Tonya Gowan, co-owner of the local Gecko’s restaurant chain, said in an interview during the criminal investigation that the restaurant has offered discounted prices on meals to law enforcement officers for years.
The restaurant offers officers 40 percent off meals, she said, “because they do a hard job and we want to commend them for the hard work they do.”
Offering free meals to law enforcement is not something her business offers, though.
“We have never given any goods or services to police officers,” she said. “We had no idea there were incidents where someone didn’t pay.”
Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski said in a previous interview that he tells officers, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”
Officers are supposed to pay full price regardless of offered discounts, he said, even if it means leaving a large tip for the wait staff. “Why put yourselves in an ethical situation?” Radzilowski said.
Both Roden and Miller have been disciplined in the past, according to personnel records.
Roden was fired as a deputy from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office for lying on an arrest report in 2004. He became a dispatcher for the city in September 2007, and there were incidents in which he fell asleep during his shift more than once and didn’t follow procedure for documenting missing persons, records show.
Roden then became a police officer for the city in December 2008. In his last review, he led his zone every month in making arrests and was described as a “pro-active” officer.
Miller’s file shows he was arrested for retail theft as a juvenile on Holmes Beach. He has been with the department since July 2007.
Roden and Miller could not be reached for comment for this story. When Roden was contacted during the criminal investigation, he declined to comment.