St. Petersburg police officer secretly records supervisors, gets job back, files lawsuit

By Josh Rojas, Reporter
Last Updated: Monday, October 23, 2017, 9:21 PM EDT

A St. Petersburg police officer who was fired for not obeying instructions, adjusting his schedule without permission and allegedly lying about getting his car washed was reinstated with back pay after secret audio recordings of meetings with his supervisors surfaced, according to internal affairs records.

Officer Richard Miranda also filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and a whistleblower lawsuit against the City of St. Petersburg, Police Chief Tony Holloway and four supervisors.

  • Officer Richard Miranda fired Feb. 23, since reinstated
  • Bay News 9 obtains audio recording through public records request
  • Miranda believes he was the target of retaliation
  • PDF: Read the lawsuit

Miranda was fired on Feb. 23 by Chief Holloway for falsification and insubordination.

"You said you did not tell your supervisor you did PM on your vehicle, you only did maintenance on your vehicle," Holloway said at the Command Review Board hearing. "To wit: you washed your vehicle but those two supervisors swear under oath that you did tell them that you did PM service."

Officer Miranda told Chief Holloway that he never used the term PM, which stands for Preventative Maintenance. It's a scheduled time to drop off police cruisers for work to be done by a city mechanic. Instead, Miranda said he used the term MRS, which stands for Mechanical Rail Services. That's the facility where PM is done. It's also where officers wash their cruisers and fill up with gas.

"I did not say anything about doing PM to my vehicle sir," Miranda said.

That's the same thing Miranda told internal affairs Det. Annetta Perry during an interview last November.

"Do you have any idea why they would assume you were having your car PM’d rather than just," Perry asked.

Miranda interrupted, "I did not use that term, so I don't know. Why their assumption is strictly to that, I don't know.”

"No one asked me why was I at MRS… I went to MRS, part of the maintenance of the vehicle is (to) wash it and I washed the cruiser."

Sgt. Candace Marklin and acting Lt. William Burris told Perry during their interviews that Miranda said he came in early on March 30, 2016, without permission, to PM his cruiser.

"He told me and Lieutenant Burris at that point that he had to PM his car," said Sgt. Marklin.

"He said without hesitating, he said, ‘Well, I had to get… PM'd,'" said acting Lt. Burris. "I specifically told him, 'Look, if that's what you have to do, you just ask and we will nine times out of 10 tell you 'No problem.' But you have to ask, you can't just make up your own schedule."

"In no uncertain terms, he lied to both of our faces."

"No one asked me why was I at MRS… I went to MRS, part of the maintenance of the vehicle is (to) wash it and I washed the cruiser." - Officer Richard Miranda during recorded conversation

At the time, those two supervisors did not realize that Miranda had secretly recorded their meeting. Through a public records request, Bay News 9 obtained that audio recording which proves Miranda never used the term "PM."

The conversation happened in a meeting room at district headquarters on April 7, 2016.

"Last extra night, everybody was working an 8-to-6," Marklin said. "And you came in and worked a 7-to-5."

"Yeah, I had to go to MRS," Miranda replied.

That was the only exchange where the maintenance term came up during the 50 minute secretly recorded conversation between Miranda, Marklin and Burris. The City decided to reinstate Miranda after his attorney, Patrice Pucci, presented that recording at a grievance hearing in April.

"The supervisors were not aware that grievant recorded those conversations," hearing officer Kristen Mory wrote in a letter. "The audio recordings were presented as evidence to demonstrate that Officer Miranda did not provide false testimony at the Chain of Command Board hearing related to vehicle maintenance."

Mory's letter went on to state, "The resolution includes removal of the falsification rule violation from the previous employee notice, reinstatement effective July 31, 2017, and back pay from the time grievant was terminated up until his reinstatement."

In an effort to keep his employees from secretly recording each other again, Chief Holloway amended the general orders in July to state: interception and disclosure of wire, oral or electronic communications (is) prohibited.

"It's easier for employees now to audio or video record at work to try to get evidence of an employment law claim. I think we're going to see this not just in the law enforcement setting, not just in the public employer setting but also in the private employer setting." - Stetson University College of Law Professor Jason Bent

Even though Miranda got his job back, he was still found to be insubordinate for not following his supervisors' instructions and adjusting his schedule without permission.

According to the public records, Miranda believes he was the target of retaliation for filing a discrimination complaint against Lt. Karen Eichler. That supervisor had Miranda inactivated from the field training unit for declining to teach a class about runaways. An emotional Miranda admits in the secret recording that's one reason he was being difficult with his supervisors.

"Just deal with it. If it pisses me off and it makes me act up, deal with it," Miranda said. "I have never been so stressed in my life with this bulls**t. I don’t give a s**t. I come here because I have a family and I love my job."

An internal affairs investigation found there was no evidence to support the allegation of racial discrimination against Lt. Eichler and the case has been closed per the Chief. Miranda’s attorney filed an amended lawsuit on Friday alleging retaliation in violation of Florida’s Public Whistleblower Act, negligence, tortious interference and race discrimination under Florida's Civil Rights Act against the City of St. Petersburg.

Pucci said Mayor Rick Kriseman was served on Friday and Chief Holloway along with Karen Eichler, Candace Marklin, William Burris and Luke Williams will be served this week. Police spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez said Holloway declined a request for an interview.

"The Chief would like to speak with you about this matter. However, there's a pending lawsuit and legal has advised him not to say anything at this time," Fernandez said. "However, once all of that is resolved, he’s willing to sit down with you and answer any questions you might have."

Miranda also declined a request for an interview but his attorney released a statement.

"Officer Miranda's reinstatement was agreed upon to minimize the damages," Pucci stated. "And does not affect/settle Officer Miranda's other claims against the City."

Stetson University College of Law Professor Jason Bent, who specializes in employment law, said this is the first case he's seen where an officer secretly recorded other officers while at work.

"I think it's a really interesting case and one of the most fascinating aspects about this case to me is the recording by employees, because this is a sort of rapidly developing area of law," Bent said. "When you're talking about a police officer recording another police officer for employment related claim purposes, that's the first time I've seen that."

Professor Bent said with the rise of smartphones it could be a new trend.

"I think it's a trend to watch. It's easier for employees now to audio or video record at work to try to get evidence of an employment law claim," he said. "I think we're going to see this not just in the law enforcement setting, not just in the public employer setting but also in the private employer setting."

Bent warns that unless you fall under a specific exception, secretly recording a conversation in Florida is generally illegal.

"If I were advising an employee in a two party consent state like Florida, I would tell them to be very careful about this," he said. "We need to make sure it fits an exception before you go recording someone because if not, you're committing a crime."

Pucci provided case law exceptions for Miranda's case, stating police officers do not have an expectation of privacy while on the job and the Florida Supreme Court ruled the legislature did not intend that every oral communication be free from interception without the prior consent of all the parties to the communication.