Investigation into Marco Island police records clerk closed, allegations not substantiated
Nearly 21 months after being accused by then-Police Chief Al Schettino of leaking confidential information, an investigation into the Marco Island police records clerk was not substantiated.
The investigation’s findings mean the police department could not confirm or refute allegations that Heather Comparini leaked information last year about a battery complaint made against former City Manager Lee Niblock.
Niblock was fired for cause after the complaint was made public and eventually charged with one count of misdemeanor battery, which he pleaded no contest to this year.
No evidence was uncovered showing Comparini leaked the information; her sole link was being among a group of at least 20 people that knew of the information that was disseminated.
“Sans Schettino’s assertion, Comparini’s access is the sole form of evidence potentially linking her to the allegation,” Capt. Dave Baer wrote in the report. “It is also undisputed that multiple other persons had access to the same document — thus the same inference could be made regarding those persons known, or unknown.”
The basis for the investigation also raises questions.
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Schettino had accused Comparini of leaking the information from a report that had been sent to a public printer, going as far as to ask labor attorney Milton Collins for a template termination letter to be used for Feb. 16, 2018.
Schettino claimed to have received a call from City Attorney Alan Gabriel in which Comparini was identified as the source of a text message containing information about Niblock that eventually found its way to Councilor Larry Honig.
His assertions were noted in termination notes provided to Collins as well as in conversations with Sgt. Mark Haueter, Capt. Richard Stoltenborg and Lt. Clayton Smith.
In interviews conducted by Baer, all three officers affirmed Schettino told them Gabriel indicated Comparini was the source of the leak but were unaware of any evidence that could prove or refute the allegations. None of the officers also directly heard Gabriel make that statement to Schettino.
Gabriel did attest to calling Schettino but he and Honig refuted ever providing information about the source of the text message as well as identifying Comparini as the leak.
Schettino advised Police Chief Tracy Frazzano that he would not participate in an interview on advice of legal counsel.
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Comparini did provide documentation in her defense to the city, including a text message that was from someone with the initials “NG” that contained the same information disseminated, but the investigation concluded it did not exonerate her.
The text from “NG” was presumed to be from former Sgt. Neil Giansanti, whom Comparini alleged was near the printer when the confidential document was printed.
Comparini also alleged then-officer Karie Petit came into the station to look for the document after reportedly being told of it by Giansanti. Petit did not respond to the police department’s attempts to contact her.
Giansanti denied sending the message but declined to provide an official statement or participate in an interview with Baer.
Baer noted, “the inference that NG is Neil Giansanti, while convenient – is unsubstantiated.”
In closing out the investigation, Baer noted some of its limitations.
Baer, while serving as the department’s acting chief, was assigned the case by City Manager Mike McNees in July, despite the incident occurring in February 2018.
“The investigative delay between Schettino’s initial launch and my assignment reduced access to witnesses, opportunities to collect evidence, the ability to interview witnesses with ‘fresh memories,’ and finally creates opportunities for actual collusion or the perception thereof,” Baer wrote.
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The contents of the investigative file handed to Baer also show little was done to investigate the allegations despite the department’s claims that that it was “active” up until Baer took over.
The file included:
- an approximately two and one-quarter page summary by Schettino
- a photocopy of the Feb. 9, 2018, text message from “NG,”
- a Feb. 9, 2018, memo from Haueter
- an April 9, 2019, memo from Smith
- one-page from a Collier County Sheriff’s Office supplemental report.
While Baer’s report closes out the investigation, the matter is not over.
Comparini and the city are engaged in litigation after she accused Schettino and the police department of discrimination and retaliation based on her gender.
Despite proclaiming her innocence throughout, Comparini said Schettino had others train for her job and deactivated her key card, resulting in physical ailments and mental anguish.
After failing to reach a settlement agreement two weeks ago, Comparini tendered her letter of resignation, effective as of Nov. 6. As of Wednesday, her lawsuit has not alleged constructive dismissal, or having to resign due to hostile workplace conditions.
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