VPD officers suspended after accidental shooting
The Venice Police Department has suspended two of its veteran officers without pay over the accidental shooting of a 5-year-old boy.
The suspensions came following a lengthy Internal Affairs investigation into a shooting incident at the police range. The victim is the stepson of Officer Billy Masters, whose gun discharged as he was cleaning it.
"Officer Billy Masters was suspended for 160 hours without pay (one month) and Sgt. Joe Whitehead was suspended for two weeks," Police Chief Julie Williams said. "The way I feel about it is, corrections have been made and now we move on."
Williams, in a telephone interview, reiterated what she stated in the nearly 100-page IA report.
"Serious mistakes were made by each of them," she said. "We sustain five charges against Masters and four against Sgt. Whitehead."
Whitehead, as VPD range master, was held accountable for not ensuring that proper range protocol and firearms safety procedures were followed.
Among the five sustained claims against Masters was this one stated by Williams in the report:
"It is my conclusion that Officer Masters acted carelessly without regard to those around him when he accidentally shot another person.
"This incident could have been prevented if Officer Masters would have followed proper training procedures and gun safety protocol. Officer Masters did not follow basic rules of firearm safety posted in the training facility observable from the area where the shooting took place."
According to police documents, Masters was cleaning his Glock 23 semi-automatic .40 caliber duty pistol at the police shooting range Nov. 21. His wife and 5-year-old stepson came to watch him shoot.
Masters was disassembling the weapon (a normal procedure prior to cleaning) and didn't realize he still had a round in the chamber, the report stated. The gun accidentally discharged.
The bullet hit the boy in the left hip area. He was airlifted to All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. He was released the next day.
Disciplined over affair
Five years ago, Masters was involved in an affair with another VPD officer's wife. Both officers are still with the department. Masters was disciplined by then-Chief Jim Hanks.
Hanks originally recommended that Masters, who had then been with the department 10 years, be suspended for five days without pay.
The affair and the disciplinary action caused widespread dissension within the department. Many officers felt Hanks was too lenient with Masters.
A VPD review board recommended that Masters, who also reportedly pulled a gun on the other officer over a matter not directly related to the affair, should have been suspended for 15 days without pay.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Venice Police Internal Affairs unit investigated the 2002 gun incident.
The victim officer took an FDLE polygraph that proved inconclusive. An IA polygraph, however, showed he was telling the truth about Masters pulling a gun on him.
The two officers had been best friends for 18 years.