LAKELAND, Fla - A town hall meeting held by 10 Lakeland city leaders regarding a sex scandal at the police department resulted in polarizing opinions from residents in attendance.
"Everyone of you sitting there knew this was going on," said a Lakeland resident who announced herself as Ms. Carol.
"Instead of judging and criticizing the department as a whole, we just need to stand together and overcome this," urged Brenda Crispin, the sister of slain LPD officer Arnulfo Crispin. He was gunned down while on patrol in 2011.
The town hall meeting lasted close to three hours and drew more than 200 residents to the Lakeland Center.
Some city leaders said the share in the same feeling as residents and want to find out why it took so long for the scandal be brought to light and how it when undetected.
"I can't express the disappointment and the frustration and anger that I have had," said Lakeland City Manager Doug Thomas.
The sex scandal involves nearly a dozen officers. At least five of those have been fired or resigned. This comes after civilian worker Sue Eberle told prosecutors she had consensual and sometimes coerced sex with officers.
Eberle alleges that some of the sex acts took place while the officers were on-duty.
AUDIO TAPES OF SUE EBERLE DISCUSSING ALLEGED SEX SCANDAL
The ABC Action News I-Team obtained copies of those tape recorded conversations between Eberle and the prosecutor.
When asked if she ever wanted to say "no," to the sexual advances and acts, Eberle said: "Multiple times I did."
Eberle became the target of an investigation when a sergeant on patrol discovered a secret rendezvous between Eberle and Officer Steve Sherman at Without Walls Church. The two admitted to investigators they met there for sex while he was on duty.
She also had sex with Sherman at the now-abandoned Old Carpenter's home, at a police substation, and in her car.
During three interviews with the state attorney's office, Eberle detailed sexual encounters with more than a dozen other officers, including Capt. John Thomason.
"He took my phone into the LPD bathroom on the first floor and took a picture of his penis," Eberle said of Thomason. "And when he came back, he was kind of laughing it off."
Eberle talks in depth about other high-ranking officers, including former Assistant Police Chief Charles Thompson, whom she says asked her for sex and kissed her.
In effort to placate those upset by the scandal, city leaders promised to punish those in the wrong and explained to citizens the investigation into this scandal will be a lengthy process. City leaders asked for residents to be patient and understanding.
SUPPORTERS APPLAUD CITY LEADERS
There were many in the audience that applauded city leaders and came out to show their support for embattled Police Chief Lisa Womack.
"There are going to be some bad apples in the group and you have to find them out and I am glad we found them," said Mark Bandyk, a longtime Lakeland resident.
Another support was Brenda Crispin. Her brother, Arnulfo Crispin, was an LPD officer who was gunned down while on patrol back in 2011.
"Instead of judging and criticizing the department as a whole, we just need to stand together and overcome this and let Lisa Womack do her job," urged Crispin.
CITIZENS' ADVISORY COMMISSION RESIGNATIONS
Monday night's meeting went on without two key people.
The co-chairs of the Citizen's Advisory Commission (CAC), Lakeland businessman Joe P. Ruthven and Polk State College President Eileen Holden, resigned just hours before the meeting.
Both were named co-chairs by Mayor Gow Fields on July 12.
The CAC was formed to help LPD weather the fallout regarding a department sex scandal involving 10 officers. At least five officers have lost their jobs as a result.
In her letter to the mayor, Holden says she initially was told she'd overlook five or six citizens. However, roughly 15 citizen are now on the commission.
Ruthven reportedly also took issue with the size of the committee.
Holden also pointed on challenges facing the city, writing:
- The absence of consensus (and meaningful collaboration) on the City Commission
- A series of breakdowns in communication and accountability that span the City's organizational chart, from top to bottom, (an issue I see as both personal and cultural)
- An antagonistic relationship between the City and local print media
- A breakdown in trust between the City and the State Attorney's Office.
Holden went on to say, "On a personal note, I wish to emphasize the input I have already provided to you: specifially, I encourage you and your colleagues on the Lakeland City Commission to take this crisis as an opportunity to reflect with eyes wide open on leadership and accountability breakdowns that are already evident."
Holden concluded that the City has 'an opportunity to enact meaningful reform' in the choices they make to rectify this situation.
"We will move forward," said Mayor Gow Fields.
The CAC is slated to meet for the
first time Thursday night.