An off-duty Gulfport Police Sergeant and his wife were accused of retail theft at an area Walmart on Friday evening April 27 after they had visited the children’s toy aisle and completed their purchase transactions in a self-checkout lane.
The pair was observed on surveillance video at the St. Petersburg Walmart Supercenter, 3501 34th Street S., and were “opening a number of little children’s toys that are not worth a lot,” said St. Petersburg Police Public Information Officer Yolanda Fernandez. “Walmart is saying that those toys are no longer sellable because the packages were opened.”
Next, “in a self-checkout lane, there were some items that were neglected to be scanned,” she said.
Store security staff alerted St. Petersburg Police who then documented that toys had been opened, and under $100 worth of items had not been paid for.
The value of the opened toys put the total amount above $100, said Fernandez.
As a result, Sergeant Matthew Parks and his wife Lindsay were both charged with “misdemeanor retail theft, less than $300,” said Fernandez.
Due to their clean law enforcement records and eligibility, they were offered the option of a new program in Pinellas County named the Adult Pre-Arrest Diversion program (APAD).
“On Saturday, [April 28] we had given Parks APAD,” said Fernandez.
The APAD program began on October 17, 2016 with full participation by all cities in Pinellas County and law enforcement stakeholders through a memorandum of understanding. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri leads the unique initiative.
“It’s the only one like it in the state of Florida and the only one that I know of that operates this way in the whole country,” said Gualtieri during an April 11, 2017 meeting of the board of Pinellas County Commissioners where he gave a statistical report on the effectiveness of the program.
“An important aspect of this program is it doesn’t cost anybody anything to participate in it,” said Gualtieri. “We’re always looking for ways to treat people better and have a better outcome and result. We want people to succeed. We all make mistakes in life. We’re all imperfect. We all have bumps in the road.”
Essentially, the program is a way for eligible adults with a clean record that commit minor offenses like possession of marijuana, retail theft, battery or petit theft to avoid having an initial police record or adding to an existing one, said Gualtieri. Instead of law enforcement undergoing an investigation, the accused being booked into jail and the courts processing the case – all at a cost to taxpayers – a suspect can avoid the process by serving time through education and community service along with paying restitution, if applicable. Upon successful completion of the alternative sanctions offered by the program, no criminal arrest is made.
According to a St. Petersburg Police Department community awareness release issued on February 3, 2017 through the online Nextdoor tool, “The goals of the program are to allow individuals to avoid a criminal arrest and the collateral consequences that often come along with a criminal arrest including adversely affecting employment, future job prospects, entry to the military and other social stigma. The program also hopes to reduce the pressure on the local jail system and the Pinellas County Criminal Court system,” said Fernandez.
The case involving Parks and his wife “has been a little different for us because it’s the first adult APAD public information request that we’ve handled,” said Fernandez on Monday, April 30. “This is a fairly new program for adults. It is sealed but it’s also public record.”
According to the sheriff’s office, suspects offered APAD by a law enforcement officer must appear within 48 hours at the Alternative Sentencing and Pre-Trial Services office located at the Pinellas County Justice Center, 14250 49th Street N., Clearwater to accept or refuse the option. The office is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week year round.
On Sunday, April 29, St. Petersburg Police were notified that Sergeant Parks had refused APAD, said Fernandez. “You have to agree to APAD. You have to admit guilt. So now, the case has been referred to the State Attorneys Office.”
On Monday, April 30, Gulfport Police Chief Robert Vincent said that Parks has been put on leave while the State Attorneys Office is investigating the case.
“The state will work with Walmart to determine whether they want to pursue the charges,” said Fernandez.
The Gulfport Police Department is also conducting their own internal investigation, said Vincent. As of Monday morning, April 30, “Parks has not been charged with anything.”
Sergeant Parks is the supervisor of Alpha Squad and has been with the Gulfport Police Department since 2001. In 2013, he was promoted to sergeant after serving as a patrol officer, detective and acting sergeant. He is a certified firearms instructor and has advanced certifications in homicide and sex crimes investigations as well as training in crisis intervention, counterterrorism, document examination, domestic violence and internal affairs investigations. He is currently responsible for planning and supervising law enforcement bicycle patrol operations.
By Florida State Statue 112.532(4)(b), “the agency is prohibited by law from releasing any information while the internal investigation is being conducted,” said Vincent.
The statute states, “The contents of the complaint and investigation shall remain confidential until such time as the employing law enforcement agency makes a final determination whether or not to issue a notice of disciplinary action consisting of suspension with loss of pay, demotion, or dismissal.”