This police department just dealt with a sex scandal. Now it has a nipple problem

Palmetto Police Department Headquarters
Palmetto Police Department Headquarters ttompkins@bradenton.com

Palmetto Police Chief Scott Tyler is under investigation after an officer involved in a 2017 sex scandal complained that she overheard Tyler make a comment about another officer’s nipple being exposed.

Officials believe the charge against Tyler, as well as revelations about a video depicting Palmetto officers joking about water boarding, stem back to a 2017 love triangle that ultimately ended the career of former Capt. Stephen Greer.

Since last month, an outside labor attorney has been investigating a claim against Tyler that he made an inappropriate comment about a female reserve officer who is no longer with the department, according to Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant.

He allegedly made a comment about the officer’s nipple being visible when she came to the station on the date in question, Bryant said. It was not made directly toward her but rather to another officer as Tyler tried to express how inappropriate it was, the mayor said.

Bryant said the investigation is expected to end soon.

Tyler acknowledged a comment was made, but he has not elaborated to its specific nature.

While Tyler said he would not speculate as to the motive for the complaint against him, he did say that once the full investigation becomes public, it would demonstrate a “straight line” back to the 2017 love triangle involving Greer and two other officers.. He added that he was eager for the investigation to wrap up and the circumstances surrounding the complaint to become public.

Bryant, too, said she believes there is evidence that points back to the 2017 love triangle as being the motivation for the complaint.

The former reserve officer whom Tyler’s alleged comment referred to did not file a complaint. Instead, Bryant and Tyler said it was filed in March by Detective Chris Cavazos after she claimed to have overheard the chief make the comment.

Det. Chris Cavazos Provided photo

The Tyler complaint and other allegations, including one involving the water boarding tape, were filed with the city’s human resources department.

Cavazos last year was named in the Greer love triangle with another Palmetto officer. According to that investigation, Cavazos filed a complaint against Greer after she broke off their affair to begin a new affair because Greer was harassing both of his subordinates at the time.

During the course of an internal affairs investigation of Greer, he remotely deleted data from his police-issued cell phone in an attempt to hide a series of texts, which were eventually recovered.

Greer follow primary
Former Palmetto Police captain Stephen Greer said he “disagrees strongly” with findings that led to his resignation last week after being involved in an interdepartmental love triangle. Provided via Palmetto Police Department Facebook

Cavazos filed the complaint against Tyler at the same time that she was the subject of an internal affairs investigation that started after the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office notified Palmetto police she had been named as the aggressor in a domestic violence case involving her husband.

HCSO dropped the investigation after her husband recanted his statement that Cavazos had slapped him. The case was then reviewed by Palmetto’s internal affairs unit, which is standard protocol, after it was noted that Cavazos failed to notify her supervisors of the HCSO investigation. However, she was unaware of their investigation because she had left the home before deputies arrived.

Cavazos could not be reached for comment Friday.

The complaint

Chief Tyler took Cavazos’ complaint regarding the alleged nipple comment, followed protocol, and delivered the complaint to Bryant. The mayor made the decision to have an outside entity investigate the matter rather than it being handled internally, which would have meant a subordinate investigating a department head.

The investigating attorney remains unknown for now until a final report is complete. As of Friday, Bryant said the case was not closed and she was advised to not release the complaint until the investigation is completed.

Both Bryant and Tyler said they want it released as soon as possible, feeling confident there will be some vindication, as well as evidence that the latest accusations are linked to the 2017 love triangle.

Police Chief Scott Tyler gives a press conference at the Palmetto Police Department in this file photo. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

“He and I were very stressed over that situation,” Bryant said regarding the 2017 love triangle within the department. “We knew there were marriages and children involved and now it’s bubbling up again when we tried to do the right thing while looking out for everybody’s families.”

Bryant said it’s evident that Greer’s departure upset a couple of people within the department and it’s those people who are making the new complaints. One city employee questioned during the internal affairs investigation last year called it a “witch hunt” against Greer.

“It’s a complicated situation, but yes, I believe this goes back to Greer,” Bryant said.

Water boarding video

The mayor also said Cavazos was the one who complained to the Manatee County NAACP about a video shown during the department’s 2016 Christmas party showing officers pretending to water board a fake suspect.

Bryant wondered about the timing of the revelation about the video and why after a year and a half someone would all of a sudden be offended. Detective Sgt. Ryan LaRowe, the lead internal affairs investigator who examined Cavazos’ domestic violence incident, was prominently featured in the video.

Regardless of motive, Bryant acknowledged that Tyler’s comments and the water boarding video could have been handled better. But in both cases, she is standing behind her chief and her police department.

As well as highlighting the department's achievements throughout the year, a Palmetto Police Department video from 2016 includes a joking reference to water boarding, which some consider to be a form of torture. This is a clip from a full version.

“My priority in the city of Palmetto is to protect the city and the department and provide them security in their homes and on the streets,” Bryant said. “I won’t put an individual’s well being above that. There will likely be some fallout from this investigation, but it won’t rise to the level it was intended.”

For starters, Bryant said she will make her department heads attend sensitivity training, and the city is working on a no-fraternization policy given the latest fallout. Tyler indicated last summer he would implement the policy in the wake of the love triangle that shook his department, but he has not yet done so.

Despite a lengthy list of reprimands and serious accusations levied against him over the course of his career at PPD, including several accusations of a sexual nature, Greer was allowed to retire last year in order to keep his pension.

Greer had been terminated in December 2002 following an internal affairs investigation for conduct unbecoming an officer for having an inappropriate relationship with a 16-year-old girl.

The girl’s family filed a complaint with the Palmetto Police Department claiming Greer had a sexual relationship with the teen. The allegations were investigated by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and later submitted to the State Attorney’s Office to be reviewed, but ultimately prosecutors declined to charge Greer because of “denials, omissions and contradictions” in the teen’s statements.

Greer was fired for the inappropriate relationship but later appealed and won his job back. The Personnel Appeal Board offered no explanation for its decision.

Bryant said the city could have pressed charges against Greer last year for his actions. However, she chose to allow him to resign to better protect the innocent family members that could have been hurt by a criminal case.

Bryant now has some regrets over the decision, since it appears now there may be some residual effects from the love triangle scandal.

“I had thought people would take heed and I would have counted it as a blessing if I was one of those parties,” Bryant said. “I didn’t want to hurt the children and destroy marriages so this is beyond my understanding why someone involved in that would make it out to be more than it was. But there is always an opportunity to improve and that will be what I expect.”

Cavazos’ domestic violence case was dropped when her husband recanted his story before a deputy even arrived at the home. The deputy, however, thought that some redness on his lip was consistent with being hit in the face, the 10-year veteran told LaRowe. The case was closed as being unfounded since Cavazos’ husband had recanted.

A photo of his lip doesn’t appear to show an injury.

When questioned by LaRowe, Cavazos claimed to find her husband’s allegations surprising considering the mark on his lips and some on his neck were the reason they were arguing, according to the report. Cavazos said she thought the mark on his lip was from another woman biting his lip. When questioned by LaRowe, her husband also admitted they were arguing over what she alleged to be hickeys.

LaRowe noted in his report that Cavazos was angry and that she refused to undergo a polygraph examination to substantiate her story. The interview ended at that point and the IA case was closed.