LAKELAND, Fla. - Amidst a flurry of sex scandals, including the latest arrest of a Lakeland police officer on charges of stalking and rape, State Attorney Jerry Hill said the time has long past for the city to make changes at the top of the police department, starting with Chief Lisa Womack.
"I won't use the word 'fire.' I'm not going to cross that line," Hill said.
"I think it's pretty evident that major changes are necessary."
Womack responded by saying she has no plans to resign, and is not in fear of losing her job. She accused Hill of having reasons above and beyond professional conduct for attacking her.
"It's widely known that he doesn't like me personally," Womack said. "I believe it's personally motivated, and I believe the characterization of the quality of the police department is the result of that motivation."
Hill denied that his criticism was anything other than the result of years of problems dealing with Lakeland Police.
"It's not personal," Hill said. "I like her. On a personal level, I hold her in high regard."
But Hill said this week's arrest of officer Julio Pagan on charges of armed sexual battery was the last straw. When the victim called for help after Pagan's alleged assault, 9-1-1 recordings suggested that a supervising sergeant recently promoted by Womack laughed off the accusations.
"Lakeland knew about it. The city manager knew about it. The chief knew about it and did nothing," Hill said.
Lakeland Mayor Gow Fields and city manager Doug Thomas both defended Womack, saying she has handled well the difficult task of dealing with the scandals.
"I understand how Mr. Hill feels, but I am not prepared to fire the coach for doing a good job," Fields said.
Fields was asked if he felt the pressure from the state attorney's office was politically motivated. Fields is running for re-election in November.
"The political season happens to be what it is. That makes it a little bit easier to use that for some of the pressure," Fields said.
Fields is a democrat, while Hill is a republican.
The mayor said he disagrees with Hill's demand that dramatic change start from the top down.
"Mr. Hill wants to use a sledgehammer. I prefer to use a scalpel," Fields said.
"I see no sense in harming innocent people for the wrongs of those who are guilty."