MIPD, police supporters organize to keep chief
Marco Island residents Monday relived a sequence of events from nearly 13 months ago when citizens denounced small-town politics and attacks on the police department.
Last year, supporters accused Councilor Larry Honig of having a vendetta and conspiring with then-City Manager Lee Niblock to fire city employees.
While the commentary this year has been much tamer thus far with respect to the pending June 15 retirement of Police Chief Al Schettino and rumors of his forced ouster, one Marco resident warned City Council that things could become more raucous in the coming weeks as a faction in the community is pushing for him to stay.
What transpired during Monday’s public comment portion of the meeting also wasn’t by accident.
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Emails from police personnel and comments from supporters of the department show Monday’s events were orchestrated to undermine the authority of City Manager David Harden, which included armed officers in uniform entering council chambers to support the chief.
“I stand before you to tell you, ‘Leave our police chief alone,’” Bernie Greichen said.
After explaining that supporters had knocked on doors and collected nearly 2,700 signatures in support of Schettino, Greichen turned around and pointed from side-to-side at the line of uniformed police officers that had entered the room. Despite no item on the agenda requiring their presence.
“They’re not here by accident,” Greichen said. “They’re here to back the chief. In the next few weeks, you’re going to see an outcry from the citizens that you’ve never seen before.”
The relationship between the police department and the council appeared to reach a boil on March 5, 2018 as Schettino joined in on accusing Honig of attempting to undermine his authority by bringing up an internal climate survey that was critical of police leadership.
Police supporters and Schettino also keyed in on a one-way email from Niblock to Honig in which Niblock stated that the "St. Valentine's Day massacre" would be late, which presumably referenced a mass firing of staff.
A public records request showed that the email Schettino and his supporters referenced was part of a PDF distributed by former Councilor Bob Brown on the Saturday before the March 5 meeting.
"I am attaching a couple of interesting emails that I received from City Hall through a FOIA request which blatantly shows there is a hit list out on key employees," Brown wrote. "This is so very disturbing to me and as my community neighbors want you in the loop and looking for you to be supportive in any way possible."
But it appears Brown didn't tell the truth. Public records show Brown made a request for FOIA logs but not for what was fulfilled. The only request that did not originate from a news outlet was made by Bill McMullan, who included the email as part of his newsletter the night before the meeting.
Flash forward to 2019 and an email from Officer John Derrig Sunday evening also corroborated that Monday’s events were orchestrated.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, This email serves as a reminder that there is a City Council Meeting tomorrow at 6 p.m.,” Derrig wrote. “I would expect all of us to attend (in uniform) to show support for our Chief.”
The 6 p.m.time Derrig wrote coincides with the time-certain public comment portion of Marco Island City Council meetings.
By Honig’s count, 13 officers had entered the room just before the stroke of six.
Along with the police presence, some residents also accused the City Council of influencing the city manager to remove Schettino.
Noting the short time between Harden’s hire and Schettino’s retirement, Chuck Callahan questioned how Harden could have made a personnel decision so quickly.
“Either Mr. Harden has an amazing ability to evaluate employee performance or he was given a predetermined agenda by the council, perhaps on the q.t,” Chuck Callahan said.
Callahan’s comments accusing the City Council of directing the manager to force Schettino’s retirement were also echoed by his wife, Teddy.
Neither of the Callahans, however, offered any evidence Monday that Schettino’s retirement was forced or acknowledged any of the missteps Schettino has taken since becoming the police chief.
Under his watch, three officers were found to have had sex on duty with the same woman over a period of years while another officer was placed under investigation after instant messages seemed to suggest that he was sexting on duty.
Schettino’s retirement also came after the state attorney’s office announced it would not prosecute the case in which SWAT responded to call of a man barricading himself in his home with a cache of weapons.
The reason the state attorney’s office would not prosecute the case was the involvement of a Marco Island officer on its do-not-subpoena list. Despite the officer not being able to testify, thus making his arrests meaningless, Schettino had kept the officer on patrol for years.
Although nothing had changed since he was reassigned to patrol, It wasn't until recently that the department determined Officer Tige Thompson was unable to fulfill the duties of the position.
Up to this point, the only comment the city has publicly made regarding Schettino's retirement was that it would not comment due to it being a personnel matter.
Schettino also did not respond to questions from the Marco Eagle regarding whether he wished to retire or if the city manager forced his resignation.
However, Schettino's executive assistant, Sharon Kovacs, posted a photo of a person holding a "Keep The Chief" sign on her Facebook page along with a statement that said he was asked to resign. Her husband, John, who is also a community service officer with the city, wrote in the comments section to pass it all around Marco Island.
During Monday's meeting and with the City Council facing accusations of meddling in personnel actions again, Honig asked the city manager whether any councilor had instructed him to take any action against Schettino.
“No, sir,” Harden said. “Not at all.”