Third Florida Narcotics Officer Resigns in Growing Marijuana Scandal

Third Florida Narcotics Officer Resigns in Growing Marijuana Scandal

CLEARWATER, FL — A third detective from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office narcotics unit being investigated for “questionable tactics” used to investigate suspected marijuana growers has resigned facing allegations of  trespassing, lying, and brutality.

Paul Giovannoni, 31, resigned Friday after reading evidence against him collected by the PCSO Internal Affairs Division, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said.  Two other members of the narcotics unit, Detective Michael Sciarrino and Sgt. Christopher Taylor, resigned Monday and Wednesday, respectively.

A fourth detective from the narcotics unit, Kyle Alston, and two patrol deputies still face possible disciplinary action in related cases. Any discipline against Alston will be decided next week.

Sciarrino, Taylor and Giovannoni arrested dozens of customers of  Simply Hydroponics, a gardening supply store, where they had set up a surveillance camera across the street.  The detectives used the camera to record license plate numbers of the store’s customers, and would then secure search warrants and raid customer’s houses.  Since learning of the camera, Sheriff Gualtieri has ordered the camera removed.

In almost all the warrants, detectives said they could smell growing marijuana from public sidewalks or neighbors’ yards, but defense lawyers  believe detectives trespassed to gather evidence, then lied to judges to get the search warrants.

Prosecutors have dismissed 18 cases against defendants accused of growing marijuana arrested by the rouge narcotics unit.

Deputies are also alleged to have worn a Progress Energy hat and uniform to gain warrant-less access to investigate one man they thought was growing marijuana, as well as a practice in which detectives would  improperly and routinely access Progress Energy billing records as they searched for marijuana grows, and would send bogus after-the-fact subpoena requests to the State Attorney’s office to cover their tracks.

Defense attorneys also accuse unit members of covering up drug trafficking by the daughter of one of the detective’s own members, physically abusing a confidential informant at a restaurant, stealing public funds, and committing perjury when questioned about their potentially illegal activities.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has been investigating the detectives’ techniques since the allegations began in early March.  Gualtieri declined to comment on whether he will seek criminal charges in the current cases.

Under the Florida Retirement System, deputies can lose pensions only if convicted of felonies related to their jobs.  Whether they resign or are fired does not affect that determination.