Former supervisor of Manatee sheriff's child protection division opts to retire after demotion and facing suspension

Manatee County Sheriff's Office Child Protection Investigation Division
Manatee County Sheriff's Office Child Protection Investigation Division jdeleon@bradenton.com

A former supervisor in the Manatee County Sheriff's Office Child Protection Investigative Division has retired to avoid a demotion and discipline after an internal affairs investigation concluded he had been inappropriate and demeaning toward child protective workers. His supervisor was suspended and reassigned after a related internal affairs investigation concluded he did nothing to stop the behavior and participated in the berating of others.

Former Sgt. Jerry Crotty announced he would be retiring in a letter dated Feb. 4 to Capt. Brian Schnering in the Professional Standards Section. According to an internal affairs investigation concluded on Feb. 20, allegations that Crotty violated three general orders -- harassment on the basis of disability, conduct unbecoming and failing to adhere to general orders -- were sustained against him.

"Over the last year, my physical and mental health has been pushed beyond its limits and this time off of work has given the clarity that I need moving forward," Crotty wrote. "When I started my career in 1997, I told my family that the day it was no longer fun and felt like work, I would resign. That day has come now."

Crotty had been on medical leave but anticipated being cleared by his doctors on Feb. 19, he said. His resignation as a result was effective Feb. 20, just two days after his demotion to deputy in the Crime Against Children Section became effective, according to his personnel file. Crotty also said in his resignation letter that he wished to discuss the investigation with Schnering so that it could be closed properly and because he did not wish to resign while he was under investigation.

After a related investigation, Crotty's supervisor, Lt. Barry Overstreet, was suspended for six days without pay and reassigned to the patrol division.

Crotty and Overstreet both supervised the Crimes Against Children section of the Child Protection Investigative Division, which handles criminal investigations, often working investigations in tandem with the Child Protection Section. The Child Protection Section handles all child welfare investigations in Manatee County for the Florida Department of Children and Families.

"Based upon a review of all documentation, evidence and interviews, it is apparent Sgt. Crotty demonstrated harassment based on a disability when he purposely spoke in a diminished tone in an effort to force Deputy Director Connie Keehner, a hearing impaired employee, to ask him to repeat himself," Sgt. Paul Davis stated in the internal affairs report. "Furthermore, it is evident Sgt. Crotty utilized a pattern of influential comments, actions and/or omissions, as well as deliberately phrased electronic communications to forge a mindset of separation and contempt between his subordinates and the employees of the Child Protection Section. "

The investigation into the allegations against Crotty revealed Overstreet had failed to properly supervise him.

"Throughout this entire investigation, there is no doubt Lt. Overstreet had actual knowledge of harassment toward CPS and failed to take temporary corrective action," Sgt. Marc Franczyk stated in the report of the subsequent internal affairs investigation.

Crotty had been on paid administrative leave when the investigation got underway Dec. 5. The third allegation sustained arose because when he was called into the Professional Standards office to be told he was being placed on leave, Crotty was on duty but did not have his firearm with him.

According to the internal affairs report, Crotty's ridicule of Keehner' hearing impairment stemmed from a conversation he had Nov. 27 with Overstreet and a child protective supervisor over an incident that had occurred at All Children's Hospital. Keehner, the supervisor and the investigator had attempted to discuss the incident with Crotty and Overstreet, but they claimed to be unavailable or acted preoccupied.

Later when Keehner overheard Crotty and Overstreet discussing the incident with the supervisor, she went and joined the conversation. Crotty directed a comment at Keehner, but did so in such a soft tone that she was forced to ask him to repeat himself. At the time, Keehner and the others didn't think it was a malicious act. But Crotty later jokingly described for his subordinates how he had intentionally spoken in a low voice to force her to ask him to repeat himself and used profanity in referring to her, detectives told investigators.

According to internal affairs reports, Crotty's contempt toward the Child Protection Unit reached it highpoint when Keehner was promoted to deputy director in April 2017.

"Her identification of the rift, and her attempts to overcome it, were met with resentment from Sgt. Crotty, who shared his discontent with his subordinates in an ongoing endeavor to increase his influence over them while demeaning and disparaging those in the CPS Units," Davis stated in the report. "His use of profanity ... to describe CPS personnel, his interactions with them, and their activity during investigations helped cement his projected negative view for emulation by his subordinates."

Emails between Crotty, Overstreet and a Crimes Against Children detective show how CPS employees were being berated:

  • On June 26, Crotty sent an email to Overstreet and the detective with the subject line, "Is this really happening?" and attached was information about a child protection supervisor attending a four-day training course. Overstreet responded, "Wow I have no idea," and the detective responded, "I'm sure the standard response will be, 'it's a different budget.'" Crotty responded to both saying, "COS has no business going to this. Just solidifies what I have been saying all along that they don't know what lane they are in."
  • On July 14, Crotty again emailed Overstreet and the detective over another child protective supervisor registering to attend similar training saying, "HAAAAAAAAAAA...." Overstreet replied, "Oh for the love of everything that's holy. What the hell is that??" Crotty responded, "A different budget. Hey, they'll have expert interrogators now, so they don't need us to 'leverage' parents anymore."
  • On Oct. 3, Crotty forwarded an email regarding an upcoming training class to Overstreet and the detective. The detective responded saying, "I know one CPI (child protective investigator) that won't be going to that training." Crotty responded saying, "I haven't heard of any of these tactics being employed on the CPS side .... Then lie in your report for a removal. $1,500 waste x2." His response included vulgar references again as well as references to baby killers and animals.

"Throughout 2017, there were numerous situations of inappropriate behavior and discussions, which C.A.C. detectives and Sgt. Crotty were involved in," Franzczyk wrote in the report. The report detailed examples of some of the behavior such:

  • A red solo cup hanging outside the Crimes Against Children Section's front door to illustrate how the Child Protective Section should communicate with them.
  • A phone with no cord outside the Crimes Against Children Section's front door in an effort to suggest they not call detectives.
  • A sign by the Crimes Against Children Section's front door that said "border" to deter no one from Child Protection Section from entering.

Crotty, a more than 20-year veteran with the sheriff' office, has been the subject of several internal affairs investigations or administrative complaints for allegations of conduct unbecoming a deputy and neglect of duty. Of the at least six prior investigations, Crotty was disciplined once with a letter of reprimand in 2008. His commendations include a nomination for deputy of the month in August 2012 for his involvement in finding a missing boater who was suicidal.

Unlike Crotty, Overstreet took responsibility for the allegation sustained against him, saying "I should have seen what was going on and paid more attention to it." In his internal affairs interview, according to the report, he said that he was just trying to deal with his personal life and the street of the on-going conflict, so he just didn't deal with it.

"I didn't see any specific as being in and of itself, harassment but yes, when you factor it all in, yes," Overstreet said.

Overstreet fought the initial discipline proposed against him of two weeks without pay, and following a hearing he was suspended for six days without pay . Of the six days, he was permitted to have three of the days taken from his accrued paid vacation days.

Overstreet's personnel file details a 21-year career with the sheriff's office that had been tarnish-free until recently. His numerous commendations included one for his prior work in the Traffic Unit helping to target drunk drivers. Since being promoted to lieutenant, Overstreet has repeatedly been commended in his performance evaluations for his supervision of subordinates.