Investigation exonerates Tampa police union president in throat-slashing gesture complaint

Vincent Gericitano Tampa PBA
TAMPA — The president of Tampa’s police union has been cleared of an allegation that he made a throat-slashing gesture during the contentious City Council meeting where Frank Reddick was ousted as council chairman.

Vincent Gericitano, president of the Tampa Police Benevolent Association, which represents about 1,000 sworn officers, denied making the gesture. He did not respond to requests for comment Friday, but told internal affairs investigators he was shocked when Reddick interrupted the April 7 meeting to accuse him of making the gesture.

“Initially, I did not understand what he was saying,” Gericitano said. “I knew that that didn’t happen.”

Reddick filed an internal affairs complaint the next week. In it, he alleged that Gericitano violated a Police Department rule that requires employees, whether on or off duty, to “conduct themselves in a manner which does not compromise their professionalism, ethics and objectives” or impair their ability to do their jobs.

In response, internal affairs detectives looked at city video from the meeting and interviewed 19 people — all seven council members, three city attorneys, other officials and several residents — and found no corroboration of Reddick’s claim.

It didn’t show up on the city’s own video, which sometimes includes views of the audience. No witness could say they saw Gericitano make the gesture that Reddick said he saw.

Reddick, whose relationship with police had soured before the vote after his outspoken support for a new police review board, told investigators the gesture wasn’t directed at him and he didn’t feel personally threatened.

Rather, he said, it appeared to be directed at council member Lisa Montelione, and he took it as a warning for Montelione not to vote for him for chairman.

Montelione, who is running for the state House of Representatives in November, told investigators she didn’t see what Reddick was talking about. But she did say Gericitano had mentioned the chairman’s election to her before the meeting.

“I believe he said that there are some members of council that they would prefer not be made chair,” Montelione told investigators. “And I said to him, ‘You don’t have to worry about anything, because I plan on nominating Harry Cohen.’ ”

And nominate Cohen she did — 13 times. But none of those rounds of voting produced the necessary four out of seven votes for any one of three candidates: Cohen, Reddick or Mike Suarez. Eventually, the council decided to elect a vice chairman first, and Cohen was chosen, which took him out of the running for the chairmanship. That set up a two-way choice between Reddick and Suarez, who won.

The council’s annual meeting to choose a chairman is usually low-key. This year, however, more drama was expected because the council chairman would move into the mayor’s office if Mayor Bob Buckhorn resigned early either to run for governor or to take a job in a Hillary Clinton presidential administration.

Still, even if Gericitano did make the gesture for the purpose of telling Montelione not to vote for Reddick, the Police Department’s attorney concluded that no violation of department rules could be upheld.

That’s because Gericitano was at the meeting in plainclothes and in his role as union president, a role that “necessarily is both political and frequently at odds with the city administration,” senior assistant city attorney Kirby Rainsberger wrote in a memo to police Chief Eric Ward.

“Even if everything occurred exactly as alleged, no regulation violation could be sustained,” Rainsberger concluded. “The gesture would be well within Gericitano’s First Amendment rights and would constitute political speech entitled to the highest degree of constitutional protection.”

Reddick said the outcome did not come as a surprise. While he stands by his claim, he said he doesn’t feel the need to pursue the matter further.

“I had expected that decision all along because if it was not visible on camera, it would come down to my word against his,” he said. “It’s closed. I made my point. … Even though I don’t agree with their recommendation, I just feel it’s time to move on.”

Contact Richard Danielson at (813) 226-3403 or Follow @Danielson_Times.