Police chief seeks state review of leaked internal document

Steve Stefanides

At last week’s Marco Island City Council meeting, accusations were made about alleged pressure brought by a city council member to assert his influence over law enforcement personnel to enforce noise ordinances.

The claims were made about activities at a house occupied by spring breakers in March -- a rental property owned by former resident Brien Spina, who now lives in Bonita Springs.

Both Spina and his wife, Tracy, accused councilman Joe Batte of using foul language and exerting undue influence over the Marco Island Police Department and supervisory staff.

The couple further accused the police department of altering official records.

“Had Mr. Spina come to the department and discussed the matter with me personally, I think he would have found a reasoned explanation of what had transpired,” said Marco Island Police Chief Al Schettino in an interview.

The chief was referring to Spina’s possession of an incomplete document he had obtained.

“We live in a changing world, where the duties and responsibilities of our officers and their supervisors have begun a transition into additional duties,” said Schettino. “Some of those duties may involve from time to time enforcing some of the city codes that may be directly related to the quality of life issues that the citizens have been debating this last year. Some officers may find that transition more difficult than others, it is staff’s job to ensure those codes and all other laws are enforced.

“On July 13 a private citizen came to me with the documents,” said Schettino. “He informed me that it was part of a larger effort in regards to the ongoing debate regarding the rental ordinance. When I inquired as to how he had obtained the documents he gave me a name of an individual and I subsequently contacted that person and discussed the matter. I informed him the documents were essentially stolen and was inaccurate. I also inquired as to where he had obtained the preliminary paperwork and he was not forthcoming.”

According to department staff, there had been an illegal incursion into the department’s computer system. This enabled an unauthorized person to retrieve a document that had not been finalized and also contained internal managerial comments that do not belong in an official report.

“This will not be tolerated and I’ve asked for an investigation of the illegal accessing of confidential records and disbursement of private investigative reports,” the police chief said. “This is serious matter, a criminal matter and I’ve asked that the appropriate state agency investigate the incident. When the investigation is completed criminal charges may be brought against whomever disbursed those sensitive documents.

“My desire is to have an independent agency conduct the review and make the necessary recommendations to ensure an unbiased report,” said Schettino.

“I’m sure no citizen wants his or hers sensitive and private information being accessed in this manner,” said Schettino.

Staff had met with the duty sergeant about that specific event and were in the process of reviewing the report to ensure it represented a fair and factual representation of the events, the chief said.

“During our internal review the sergeant involved was forthcoming in admitting that he had erred in placing some of the managerial comments into the incomplete report and was in the process of completing a professional and accurate document,” said Schettino. “Instead, someone accessed that incomplete report and disseminated that misleading document to the Spinas.

“We encourage our officers and our supervisors to learn from experience and to be honest in their everyday duties. By doing so we can mentor them to be better professionals,” said Schettino.

“We have a good department here with a great cadre of both seasoned and young professionals who serve the community on a daily basis with great distinction. The community should rest assured that when we receive a complaint from them that we will pursue those issues in a professional and efficient manner,” said Schettino.