Rambosk: Rebuild trust after cop arrest
Sheriff says he has department's support
Public trust is Job One for the entire Collier County Sheriff’s Office following the arrest of a corporal for allegedly molesting a teenage boy at a mall restroom.
So says Sheriff Kevin Rambosk, this week’s guest on Comcast’s "One on One with Jeff Lytle.’’
He also discusses how he first learned of the Naples Police Department’s investigation and what happened internally prior to Chuck Bullock being fired.
Video highlights and partial transcripts of that and past interviews are available at naplesnews.com/oneonone.
The entire 30-minute program airs Sunday at noon on Comcast CN14.
Lytle is editorial page/Perspective editor of the Daily News.
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Lytle: In view of the arrest of one of your former corporals this week, the question is, will you — are you — going to be able to get your hands around the conduct issues of your own staff? We saw some — what should I call it? — knuckle-headed or bad judgment choices by your staff recently. But now the arrest of the former corporal takes it to a different level.
The question to you, if our readers were here, they would say, sheriff, can you stop this?
Rambosk: Yes, absolutely.
Let’s talk a second from the perspective of the other direction.
We had three people out of 1,200 that have encountered conduct clearly outrageously incorrect. In our discussions, you’ve had two people that have just gone "off the ranch," and we have dealt effectively and quickly with them.
What I believe that you and the community and our members expect of me is to try and correct conduct that is correctable, if someone makes a mistake, we can retrain them, we can counsel them. We have a lot invested in them, and certainly I think most people would understand that we like correct behavior when we can.
But very clearly, in my rounds with our staff, and I’ve been meeting and will continue to meet until I’ve met with every one of our 1,200 members in small groups — I’m about half way through right now — clearly outlining, not only my expectations, again, but that of the community and letting them specifically know if I or our chain of command are unable to correct behavior where it’s so egregious, I will remove them.
And it is a question of public trust — the public trust not only in the deputy, but in me to remove individuals who should not be serving as law enforcement officers in Collier County.
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Lytle: The second person who went "off the ranch," in your words, that would be the now former deputy who staged the kidnapping of his estranged wife and her family in order to rekindle the romance in some way. That’s the second person?
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Lytle: The follow-up question then is, how do you get across to your personnel that there’s a disincentive to choose conduct like this? I mean, it seems as if they have no ... I’ll use the expression "fear.’’
Rambosk: I certainly had always been concerned coming up through the ranks that, one, I serve the community. That’s what I chose to do. And I made that decision. And I wanted to do that in the best way possible. And I can tell that the majority of people have made that decision and do that day in and day out.
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Rambosk: So for those people who choose not to or fail to ...
And that’s a distinction. If you choose to deliberately violate a policy or not follow a policy, to a degree that’s different than making a simple error that can be corrected.
Deliberate, as I can call them when I talk to my staff, usually can get you terminated. When you choose to violate policy, deliberately, that means you do not have a commitment to our residents nor to your peers, nor to the organization as whole. So what I’ve got to continue to do is make it very clear with my actions for correction that, number one, you shouldn’t be there to begin with.
So we get back to the initial hiring process; we have a good one. We utilize a similar process to that which the FBI uses with background investigations, physical background investigations. Not just phone interviews.
I think what is in the best interest in our organization is that our members have got to know that, one, you’re here for a purpose, and you chose that purpose. You chose to come to apply to commit to Collier County and to safeguard the residents here.
Number two, if you fail to do that, or you choose not to do it, then I will remove you and as immediately as I can.
It’s like setting rules for any of us as kids or as parents. There has to be a rule, and if you don’t follow it, then there are consequences for your actions.
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Lytle: Internally, is there an issue too because your department is so big and you have so many deputies that if you fail to get the message across to your people, and you have a small number continuing to embarrass the ranks, that the ranks might soon say, hey, sheriff, you have to start doing a good job because until something changes, the rest of us are looking bad?
Is that part of the dynamic?
Rambosk: I’ve talked to a lot of our people and as I have given my overview of conduct, which I have over the past several weeks, and have gotten good response from our members that they encourage me to continue to act and take action they way I’ve been acting.
What I’m hoping is that there’s more peer pressure exerted on those few individuals who may choose to not follow the rules. But more importantly, I talk to our supervisors who have one of the most difficult jobs in the agency — a line level sergeant. It’s one of the most fun jobs — and I tell them — that I ever had, but the most trying because you’re always on the line; you’re always on the forefront; you’re always resolving issues. You’re answering questions. You’re making interpretations. They are going to be paying a lot more attention to try and head off and prevent an action from occurring.
That’s what I’m asking our supervisors and our staff if they see somebody that needs help. You know, we have members in our agency that are going through foreclosure, with financial issues and other issues just like our residents are. If those are the types of things that are pressuring people to not pay as much attention to the job, then let’s help them. Let’s get them to the help.
We have a member-assistance capability where people can go for information, counseling, for direction, for help in their family lives. So I prefer to get out and prevent the occurrence of an action and ask all of our staff to identify people who might be headed in the wrong direction.
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Lytle: But ultimately, the buck stops on your desk.
Rambosk: Ultimately it stops with me and very clearly they know what I’m going to do.
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Lytle: Let me ask you now about the case of former Cpl. Chuck Bullock.
You were quoted in the paper as saying that you dismissed him as soon as you learned of the allegations. In view of the fact that the investigation had been going on since I believe January, when were you brought in?
Rambosk: If that was the quote, and I didn’t see it; and that’s not what I indicated. It was upon arrest — when we were made aware of the allegations by the Naples Police Department.
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Lytle: When was that, please?
Rambosk: That was in February, we asked ... I asked if our internal affairs section could participate.
What that means is be present as their investigation went along.
First, based on the severity of the allegations, we placed the corporal on administrative leave with no law enforcement duties until such time as the allegation could be vetted to determine if in fact anything did or did not occur.
Second thing, our internal affairs people concurrently did an investigation along with the criminal investigation done by the city.
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Lytle: In other words, your people didn’t take part in the city investigation. They like observed?
Rambosk: Yes, they observed and concurrently did our administrative investigation along with it for any unique findings that would place this member at a loss of confidence and trust to me, which is my charge through state statute. When I employ anyone, I have to have full faith and confidence to continue to perform as a law enforcement officer in the county. When I lose that confidence, then I have the ability to remove them.
At the time of the arrest, when there was probable cause to believe that the allegations supported the issuance of a warrant, and an arrest was made, that was sufficient information for me to move forward at that time.
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Lytle: Is the $35,000 bond, at least for now, in the former corporal’s case, sufficient?
Rambosk: That’s a decision that’s made not by us. It’s determined by their ties to the community. Are they going to appear? As you know, that’s what the bond is for: to assure appearance and not to hold people in jail.
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Lytle: The community safety would be a factor in it too.
Rambosk: Absolutely, and the state attorney and in some cases the judge have that decision to make if there were to be that kind of a problem.
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Lytle: Do you have any idea, observation or any information about the one question that people have about this case is that this — and again, this former officer has not had his day in court; I keep on stressing that.
The teenager who he is alleged to have molested kept coming back to the restroom at Coastland Center, based upon the public records we’ve seem. Why did that teenager do that?
Rambosk: That’s a question that I can’t answer because I’m not involved in the investigation. I’ve not interviewed the teenager involved as to what might be occurring. Certainly I think that might be a question that comes up in time of trial.
But with the issuance of arrest warrants and probable cause, the state attorney and the city police have sufficient information and evidence for the issuance of that.
But certainly it will be a question that will be raised, and we have a professional police department, and they’ll work on that case.
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Lytle: And you used to be the city police chief.
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Lytle: Is there anything else about this case that the public doesn’t know yet that you would to take this opportunity now to tell them?
Rambosk: I think the only thing that I would like to mention, and I mentioned it publicly the other night, is that we have a continuing, ongoing administrative review of the event, even though he is no long a member of the agency. Secondly, is we’re following up on other allegations of a criminal nature and we’re going to pursue investigating those at this point.
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Lytle: Other allegations about the same sort of activity?
Rambosk: No, but related to child pornography activity.
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Lytle: What you found in the computer in his house.
We’re going to pursue that, and we’ll provide you information when our investigation is complete and we take action.
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Lytle: Will we ever know what happened at the Blue Martini? Is what happened at Blue Martini continuing to happen?
Rambosk: We’ve gotten no additional reports of late. Anything that was reported to us, as you know, had been in the early part of the year, but was actually based on occurrences that were alleged to have occurred before the first of the year and the latter end of last year.
We’re still investigating that and we’ll come up with an answer. We can talk a little bit more about that if you want after the break.
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Lytle: Will we ever know the truth?
Rambosk: I sure hope we do. If you remember in the 1980s, unfortunately "roofies" (Rohypnol commonly known as the "date rape drug") surfaced and we had some people who were trying to date other people and were actually introducing substances outside of the establishment.
At that time we mounted a significant public campaign to notify people of that and they could be used.
The bottom line is, no matter where we go, we need to be aware of where we are, what we’re drinking, whether it be from the content of alcohol and the level that is in a particular drink; and its effects with prescription drugs. I still believe a lot of people don’t necessarily either recall or pay attention to the warnings on the prescription drugs that are lawfully being used for medicinal purposes.
We all need to be concerned because it doesn’t take all that much to get to a .08, which unlawful to drive in the state of Florida.
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Lytle: Does your cop sense tell you that we have some nut case putting drugs in drinks and then not committing any crimes afterward that we know of, or do people just need to realize that you have a couple of drinks, that’s what’s going to happen? Or is it something in between?
Rambosk: I think it’s probably something in between. I think my sense is, there’s no basis for why someone would want to do this.
However, when you get up to the number that believe there’s something going on, then I believe we need to look into it. And we need to look into it thoroughly.
And that’s what we’re doing.