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Cops, residents grow more estranged

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By Jenna McKenna

In the wake of the April 28 Taser incident on Dock Street, police admit that residents are talking amongst themselves. They for their part, are waiting to see if complaints roll in.

Since the night two weeks ago when area fisherman Danny Beckham was subdued with a Taser in an altercation about a friend's traffic stop, police chief Bubba Castell says he has waited for phone calls and complaints about his officers, but so far has received none.

No formal ones, anyway.

"always hear things through the grapevine," he said Monday. "People talk to each other, but they don't talk to me."

The Cedar Key Police Department has a procedure for making complaints against or recommendations for individual officers. The document requires people to give their name, residence and telephone number and sign an affidavit affirming that the statement given is true "to the best of my knowledge." It also reminds complainants of the applicable statutes against making false statements.

Despite receiving no formal complaints, Castell says he has already taken steps to have his department's action in the Taser incident reviewed by outside agencies. He says he approached the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the State Attorney's Office, both of which declined to take on an internal investigation.

The Levy County Sheriff's Office, however, did agree to look into it. Castell says he has asked them to expedite the investigation and make their findings before Tuesday, May 20, when the City Commission will meet for the first time since the city election.

May 20 is the city's department reorganization day, when the newly-seated commission will vote for mayor and vice-mayor and decide whether to renew contracts for department heads. Castell's own contract will be on the agenda next Tuesday.

Outgoing Mayor Paul Oliver says that absent the scrutiny of an outside agency, the city's range of available actions toward the police department is limited. As described, the commission can act on Castell's contract as department head. At the end of the fiscal year, they can make changes to the police budget. Or, the city can ask an outside agency to investigate documented instances of malfeasance, misfeasance or nonfeasance on the part of the department head. Oliver said cities rarely seek that solution because the proof must be material, substantial and exhaustive.

Castell says that although he feels the police department is under fire for recent incidents and for its generally strict policy of pursuing DUI cases, he will not back down on the policy nor relinquish his support of all officers.

"All my officers are good officers," he said. "Some of them are more laid back, more apt to give somebody a break. Others are more by the book. All of them make their decisions based in the law, not arbitrarily."

Read the other two articles on this incident:

Stun incident appalls locals

What's next for police and Cedar Key?