Sheriff: S.O. Doesn't Stand For Sigma Omega

By Brent Batten, Naples Daily News, May 2, 2007

Groping a waitress.

Dirty pictures.

A quickie.

The makings of a Boys Gone Wild video are the unfortunate reality - or at least were the unfortunate reality - at the Collier County Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff Don Hunter bristled Wednesday at the suggestion that the Sheriff's Office, a testosterone-heavy workplace if there ever was one, had morphed into a giant frat party.

There are nearly 1,400 officers on the job and three were caught being naughty. "In my view, that does not reflect a frat house philosophy. I would find it insulting to be characterized in that way," he said.

Maybe so, but the dismissals of Christopher Knott for inappropriately touching a bar employee; David Rich for posting photos of nude women on his Web site; and Wayne Lawson for receiving oral sex from a jail inmate are part of what would have to be described as a rough stretch for the county's chief law enforcement officer.

The bad news kept coming out Wednesday as Hunter released reports on two more deputy firings, that of Cpl. Sergio Covarrubias for choking handcuffed detainees on two occasions last year and Cpl. Roger Trudel, for not being forthright in reporting Covarrubias' behavior.

A lonely piece of good news for the sheriff - the dismissal last month by a federal judge of an excessive force lawsuit brought by Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson stemming from his arrest three years ago at The Ritz-Carlton on Vanderbilt Beach Road - was tempered. Knott, one of the deputies named in the lawsuit, had already been fired when the decision came down. Amy Stanford, another defendant in the Lifeson case, was on the losing end of a separate civil court decision in which a jury ruled she improperly detained a man under the state's Marchman Act. The jury ruled Hunter should pay the man $250,000 in damages.

Hunter valiantly tried to put the best face on the recent events, saying that by dismissing the deputies he is sending a message to the agency and the community that such behavior won't be tolerated.

Still, the sheriff's own assessment makes it hard to be optimistic that such cases won't recur. The current generation entering the work force is different than earlier ones, the sheriff observed. They're less likely to give up friends and lifestyles in the name of public service.

"They have completely different expectations of conduct," he said.

Hunter believes the new mentality is making it harder to find people able to pass the entrance requirements and tolerate ongoing scrutiny of their behavior. Agencies are in recruiting wars for those that are.

Could the result be a lowering of standards and is the recent spell an indication of such? Hunter would never say so and he'd point to the thousand-plus good deputies on the job as proof.

But a document deep within Knott's personal file hints otherwise. On Aug. 9, 2002, Knott took a polygraph test as part of the job application process. The examiner felt Knott was being deceptive on the subject of past drug use. A second test was given and again, the examiner noted deception over drug use.

Jim Williams, now chief of investigations for the sheriff, made a note in applicant Knott's file.

"I am unwilling to recommend the individual." He left the final say up to higher authorities though, jotting "Admin decision."