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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

A look at sexual misconduct in local law enforcement

Generic Crime
Generic Crime

Update Dec. 14, 2017: This story has been updated to reflect that former Deputy Michael Butler retired for reasons “not involving misconduct”

In 2013, a woman cried as she sat in Target and spoke to Gainesville Police Officer Robert Gebhardt.

Before Gebhardt arrested her for shoplifting, the 18-year-old woman told him about her drug problem. She also mentioned having been kidnapped and forced to have sex with men.

About six weeks later, Gebhardt had sex with the woman before paying her $50 to spend the night, according to GPD internal affairs investigative reports.

An Associated Press investigation published in November revealed about 1,000 law enforcement officers in America — including police officers, sheriff’s deputies, prison guards and school resource officers — lost their certifications for sex-related misconduct between 2009 and 2014.

The investigation did not include officers who received lighter punishments, including Gebhardt and others from GPD and the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.

"It tarnishes all of us," ASO spokesman Art Forgey said.

• • •

Two weeks after the arrest, Gebhardt visited the woman in jail.

He gave her a business card and his cellphone number, hoping to take her out when she was released.

And 44 days after her arrest, he did just that.

On May 6, 2013, Gebhardt took the woman to Ichiban Sushi. He bought her a drink and later took her to his apartment, where he served the woman whiskey mixed with Coke.

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They kissed in the living room and moved to the bedroom to have sex.

The woman later told investigators it felt like her first real date.

She then smoked crack in Gebhardt’s bathroom and decided she wanted to leave. She told investigators the supposed date became a transaction after she stayed the night in exchange for the $50 Gebhardt offered her.

In a deposition signed Sept. 24, 2014, GPD officials recommended Gebhardt be terminated for two sustained allegations, which included immoral, unlawful or improper conduct or indecency.

Police Chief Tony Jones signed termination forms for Gebhardt almost a month later, according to Alligator archives.

"As with any sector of the public world, there is no way to prevent it," GPD spokesman Officer Ben Tobias wrote in an email. He declined to comment further.

In 2011, Gebhardt tried to visit former Officer David Reveille, who was accused of having sex with prostitutes, according to GPD investigative reports.

In 2005, a woman said Reveille threatened to arrest her if she didn’t give him a sexual favor. The woman obliged Reveille in his police car to stay out of trouble on several occasions, but evidence suggested her claims were likely false, according to the reports.

In 2008, someone accused Reveille of sleeping with four prostitutes. A woman also accused Reveille of threatening to arrest her if she didn’t give him oral sex. She also said he made her stand over the back of his patrol car and have sex with him on a separate occasion, according to the reports.

He was arrested on six counts of sexual battery, along with other charges, on Feb. 19, 2009, and later sentenced to two years in prison for the crimes, according to Alligator archives.

"A lot of times, people will get in this line of work and feel like they’re above the law instead of being held to a higher standard," Forgey said.

• • •

Cases of abuse don’t stop at the station door.

In 2006, an investigation found former ASO Chief Inspector Alan Morrow guilty of making a fellow employee erase thousands of pornographic files from his work computer, according to an internal investigation.

"Any time you are put into that situation, you’re always in fear of reprisal because that person has power over you," Forgey said.

Sheriff Sadie Darnell reassigned Morrow, but he instead resigned, Forgey wrote in an email.

A year later, an investigation found former Deputy Michael Butler guilty of harassment after he made a female employee uncomfortable with months of unwanted physical contact and relentless text messages.

Butler completed a year of disciplinary probation, according to his personnel records.

Though Forgey originally said Butler resigned, he actually retired for reasons “not involving misconduct,” the records state.

Forgey said the sheriff’s office is organized with a chain of command, and every new employee is supervised for one year before having the chance to work full time.

If a supervisor doesn’t report the new employee’s seemingly small actions, a big problem could unfold in the future. The same goes for employees who might ignore their peers’ misconduct or intimidate someone below them in the chain, Forgey said.

"The chain is only as strong as the weakest link, and if there’s a weak link along the way somewhere that fails in that chain, the whole chain is broken," he said.

When a complaint makes its way to ASO’s Office of Professional Standards, some people become frustrated with how slow the process can be, Forgey said.

It often takes a long time, he said, because each person interviewed has to review all the interviews conducted before them.

Investigators also have to abide by a lengthy Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, which uses about eight pages to outline the rights of officers under investigation. When deciding on a punishment, Forgey said officials consider the length of a deputy’s service and his or her past offenses.

The sheriff’s office tries to avoid these problems by requiring deputies to review and sign a code of ethics and a document on harassment every year. It also requires new candidates to take a polygraph test, undergo a psychological exam, accept a review of all social media pages and agree to interviews of friends and family, Forgey said.

To minimize misconduct in the future, he recommended officers throughout the country hold each other to the same high standards expected by the public.

"We do it all and, no matter how hard you screen, there’s always going to be that small percentage that goes through the crack," Forgey said.

Contact Giuseppe Sabella at gsabella@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @Gsabella

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