Indian Shores appoints new police chief

Town attorney Regina Kardash swears in Raimondo DeCunto as the new chief of police of Indian Shores on Dec. 11 while councilors look on. DeCunto resigned from his post less than a month after being sworn in rather than be subject to an internal investigation.

INDIAN SHORES — Police Chief Raimondo DeCunto resigned from his post less than a month after being sworn in on Dec. 11 rather than be subject to an internal investigation.

The Town Council accepted his resignation at a special meeting Jan. 7.

Issues came to the surface when the town received formal complaints from three Indian Shores’ officers on Dec. 31 regarding DeCunto.

The complaints involved a series of detailed allegations of “behaviors that were in violation of anti-harassment policies” for employees, said Bonnie Dhonau. As soon as the complaints were received, DeCunto was put on paid administrative leave.

On Jan. 7, the special meeting of the Town Council was originally scheduled to authorize an independent internal affairs investigation by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office into the allegations against DeCunto. Also up for discussion was to extend DeCunto’s paid administrative leave beyond the five-day maximum permitted initially.

Instead, the Town Council received DeCunto’s letter of resignation on the day of the meeting, making the independent investigation and extended paid administrative leave agenda moot. The council accepted the resignation at the meeting by a vote of 4-1 with Councilor Mike Petruccelli voting against accepting DeCunto’s resignation.

DeCunto, a highly decorated 30-year veteran of law enforcement, elected to resign rather than go through an internal affairs investigation. According to Mayor Pat Soranno, DeCunto’s decision was made after discussing the prospects of such an investigation with his family.

In DeCunto’s five-page response letter dated Jan. 11 that was delivered to the town hall on Jan. 14, he outright denies some of the allegations and claims that others were “exaggerated.” DeCunto referenced his resignation of Jan. 7 in the response letter: “I decided, on my own, to resign from my position as chief and was not forced or asked to leave.”

In lieu of DeCunto’s resignation, two of the complaints were withdrawn by two of the officers as stated in their withdrawal documents received Jan. 15. The remaining complaint by another officer stands, containing 12 accounts of harassment violation allegations.

DeCunto could not be reached for comment.

E.D. Williams is serving as interim chief of police as he did after Chief Terry Hughes resigned in September due to health reasons. Williams was chief of police for 26 years at the department prior to his retirement in 2014 when Hughes became chief of police.

An administrative and finance committee meeting was held Jan. 15 to address the hiring process for chief of police and to approve advertising for the position that includes the job’s pay range. The administrative and finance committee voted unanimously to proceed with the advertising on the town’s website and in Florida Police Chiefs, League of Cities, and other appropriate venues.

Chief Williams’ request to authorize having qualified candidates evaluated by a behavior psychologist was also approved. Other changes to the advertisement included requiring candidates to be State of Florida Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission certified as well as to living near Indian Shores and Redington Shores.

The Administrative and Finance committee unanimously voted to retroactively approve Chief Williams’ memorandum dated Jan. 15 for mid-management stabilization of the Indian Shores Police Department. Since there was no second in command when Williams assumed the position of Interim Chief on Jan. 7, he “immediately placed reserve officer Mike Bryan in that position as shift commander to stabilize the operation.”

Bryan is assuming the rank of acting lieutenant during the selection process for the chief’s position and will work part-time (29 hours) with a 10 percent out-of-grade compensation increase. The committee authorized Bryan to have an assigned take-home vehicle which “is customary and appropriate for emergency response (at) all hours,” said Williams.

In a statement provided by the town’s attorney, Regina Kardash, “The Town of Indian Shores Police Department is dedicated to providing the town and surrounding communities with quality community police protection and services, and will work diligently to find the right candidate to lead the Department and continue to ensure the safety and security of our residents and visitors.”

The allegations against DeCunto as well as his letter of resignation are public records.

“It speaks for itself,” said the mayor. “(It’s an) unfortunate set of circumstances; I’m disappointed.”