Detective Reassigned In Payroll Investigation
GEOFF FOXZEPHYRHILLS - Another police officer was paid for hours he spent teaching at Pasco Hernando Community College, according to a city investigation released Tuesday.
Published: September 17, 2008
Published: September 17, 2008
The Zephyrhills Police Department suspended Detective George MacKnight II for three days without pay this week.
MacKnight also was ordered to repay the city 421/2 hours in vacation time and will be transferred to patrol duty when he returns to work Sept. 25, according to city records.
He is the third member of the police department to be investigated for payroll discrepancies since July.
Tuesday also marked the fourth time since July that MacKnight, 30, has received a written reprimand. MacKnight, who has been with the department for nearly four years, was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
MacKnight earns just more than $18 an hour. His pay rate will not decrease, said acting police Chief David Shears, who signed off on MacKnight's reprimand for "abuse of leave privileges" Tuesday.
"When I explained the written reprimand to him and what I'm applying on discipline, he didn't say a word," Shears said.
The previous investigations forced out Chief Russell Barnes, who resigned Aug. 19 - about an hour before the city council was scheduled to vote whether to fire him. Sgt. Robert Perrault, the department's former spokesman and head of internal affairs, resigned Aug. 8 to teach at Zephyrhills High School. He applied for the teaching job shortly before the city started investigating him.
The city's investigation concluded Barnes created a log documenting flex time that Perrault used to justify the hours he claimed to have been on the clock for the city while working at PHCC. The city does not have a policy allowing flex time.
Barnes, Perrault and MacKnight all denied any wrongdoing.
Reprimands Started In July
On July 11, MacKnight received a written reprimand for "neglect of duty." He used his agency cell phone to make about 1,400 minutes worth of personal calls while on duty or working extra duty, city records show.
He also was accused of communicating with a woman he taught at PHCC via social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook on his agency laptop.
The city's investigation of that matter, conducted by Perrault, concluded that MacKnight had used his department computer to create Web pages under the name "Tom Sizemore" - something MacKnight admitted doing, according to city records.
"The MySpace 'friends' on 'Tom Sizemore's' page were a series of scantily-clad females, though no actual nudity/pornography was observed," Barnes wrote to MacKnight in a review of the investigation.
Although city policy states MacKnight's agency laptop was to be used "for investigative and information services," Barnes said there was insufficient evidence to prove MacKnight had violated a rule pertaining to Internet access.
"At issue is your lack of a personal home computer," the former chief wrote.
On Aug. 27, MacKnight received a written reprimand after he reported that his department-issued gun had been stolen from his personal vehicle, which was parked at his home, city records show.
Shears said Tuesday he doesn't know what happened to the gun.
On Sept. 4, MacKnight received another written reprimand for "untruthfulness," city records show. In that matter, MacKnight admitted to providing misleading information about the firing-range activities of an officer in training.
Although the officer had not fired his weapon, the officer said he "did great" at the range when asked by a training officer. The trainee later said he lied after being told to do so by MacKnight, according to city records.
Payroll Discrepancies Discovered
The payroll investigation concluded that MacKnight, who was supervised by Perrault, was paid by the city while working at PHCC three days between March and July 2007.
That doesn't include July 31, 2007, when MacKnight logged 241/2 hours for the city and taught a four-hour night class at PHCC. In a summary of the investigation, Sgt. Jeffrey McDougal wrote that it is impossible to verify the impossibly long hours because "the current payroll software is unable to 'go back in time.'"
McDougal also wrote that MacKnight falsified a calendar in an attempt to explain his hours. Shears said McDougal caught on "before it turned into an issue and shut it down right there."
"I found that your attempt to persuade the investigator in this incident with altered calendar documents to be very alarming and unfortunate," Shears told MacKnight in a disciplinary notice.
Shears said the police department does not have a policy regarding how many written reprimands an employee can receive before being terminated.
City Manager Steve Spina said he believes the department is trying to "work with a four-year employee who has not been in trouble before and is going through a rough patch."
"I think they're trying to help salvage his career," Spina said. "In this instance, being reassigned to patrol is significant. It's not a demotion, but the latitude and privileges that a detective has are different than a patrol officer.
"I would be very surprised if he could survive another breach."
Reporter Christian Wade contributed to this story. Reporter Geoff Fox can be reached at (813) 779-4613.