POLK COUNTY, Fla. — The Polk County Sheriff's Office says three deputies are facing charges for evidence tampering in relation to a December arrest.
According to a press release, the three deputies were arrested Friday night after an investigation began March 15. The deputies are John Raczynski, 24, Jamal Lawson, 29, and Garrett Cook, 26.
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Sheriff Judd said the investigation into the deputies started on March 15 when a suspect who was arrested on December 21 called about her missing cellphone and $723 in cash.
Judd said the suspect was originally arrested during a traffic stop in Winter Haven, which was conducted by Raczynski. Cook and Lawson responded at the time as backup.
The suspect was arrested after drugs and cash we found in her vehicle and on her person, according to a press release. Raczynski documented the drugs and the cash in his report from the arrest.
Two days after the arrest, a release says Raczynski submitted 13 items into evidence but the cash was not one of them.
According to Judd, the deputies said they realized a few days after the arrest that the money was missing and decided to replace it with their own money. Judd said that never happened and the deputies never reported the missing money to their superiors.
Judd said officials don't believe the money was ever lost, but that one of the three men stole it. The sheriff said he doesn't know which one but added that it appears Raczynski had the money last before it disappeared.
Judd said he was "mad beyond words."
"They risked everything over a tiny amount of money," Judd said during a press conference. "If we're going to hold the community accountable, we're going to hold ourselves even more accountable."
According to the release, after the suspect contacted the sheriff's office on March 15 detectives found a supplemental report Raczynski created on March 16 adding the cash as an item of evidence. The release says Raczynski used Cook's login information to fraudulently sign the report as if Cook was an official witness.
After the suspect contacted the sheriff's office, the press release says Raczynski called Lawson. Lawson sent Raczynski $500 through CashApp, and the plan was for Raczynski to add the remaining $223 of his own money and submit it to evidence. That attempt failed and Lawson asked for the money back, according to the release.
The investigation was started after a PCSO Property & Evidence Officer reported a suspicious phone call from Raczynski on March 15.
According to the press release, Raczynski called the officer at work and asked her to call him on her personal phone. When she did he asked if there was anything he could to replace the money. The officer reported the call to her supervisor, who reported it to Raczynski’s Sergeant.
Raczynski’s Sergeant asked him about the call and the missing money. According to the release, Raczynski said he and Lawson were going to "make it right" by submitting their own money. The Sergeant told Raczynski to take no other action and the internal investigation was started.
Lawson, Cook and Raczynski were all interviewed on March 19.
Lawson confirmed that the money was removed during the initial arrest and gave conflicting stories on where it was placed after being seized, according to authorities.
Cook also confirmed that the money was removed and said he last saw the bag of evidence sitting in the truck of a vehicle but didn't say which vehicle. The release says when Raczynski told Cook a few days after the arrest that the money was missing, Cook said they should tell their Sergeant but Raczynski was worried about getting in trouble.
Authorities say Cook knew over the next few months of the plan to replace the money but took no steps to stop it.
Raczynski also confirmed the details of the original arrest. Authorities say he told them Lawson took the evidence and he took the suspect to jail. He told detectives the next day he noticed the money was missing and said the three searched for it but couldn't find it, so they created the plan to replace it. He also admitted to using Cook's password to fake the witness signature on the supplemental report he created on March 16.
Cook is charged with:
- Conspiracy to commit tampering with evidence, for conspiring with Lawson and Raczynski in unlawful tampering or fabricating evidence (F3)
Lawson is charged with:
- Conspiracy to commit tampering with evidence, for conspiring with Cook and Raczynski in unlawful tampering or fabricating evidence (F3)
- Official misconduct, for knowingly and intentionally causing another person to falsify an official record to cover up the loss of evidence (F3)
- Tampering or fabricating evidence, by transferring money to Raczynski via the CashApp, knowing it was to be unlawfully submitted as evidence (F3)
Raczynski is charged with:
- Conspiracy to commit tampering with evidence, for conspiring with Lawson and Cook in unlawful tampering or fabricating evidence (F3)
- Official misconduct, for knowingly and intentionally falsifying an official record to cover up the loss of evidence (F3)
- Tampering or fabricating evidence, by obtaining money to submit into evidence, knowing it was to be unlawfully submitted (F3)
- Forgery, for forging another deputy’s signature to his report (F3)
- Uttering forged instrument, for publishing as true a false and forged record (F3)
Raczynski and Lawson were hired by the department as detention deputies in 2017, and both later transferred to deputy sheriffs that same year. Cook was hired as a deputy sheriff in 2016. Sheriff Grady Judd said Lawson and Cook were also members of the SWAT team.
All of the deputies have resigned from the department when they were arrested on March 19.
Judd added that the charges against the suspect in the initial case have been dropped and that she will get her money back.