Lakeland police chief's hiring process involving nephew questioned by state attorney

Report warns of retribution rumors

LAKELAND, Fla. - Police Chief Lisa Womack was put on paid leave Thursday after a State Attorney's Office report called into question her rationale for throwing out a batch of public safety applicant exams in 2012 that included her nephew's failing score.

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"She disregarded all governing authority and abused her given power," the report concludes.

The 20-page report outlines Florida's official misconduct statute, a law "governing what appears to be a criminal act of official misconduct" by Womack. But it doesn't charge her with a violation.

"This investigation was not completely exhaustive due to Chief Womack's recent resignation letter to the City of Lakeland," Investigator Mike Brown wrote. "This matter may no longer merit the cost and burden that further investigation and prosecutorial efforts will impose upon the taxpayers of Polk County."

The department never hired her nephew, Rhett Hugghes. The chief came under investigation last year regarding the hiring process for public safety aides that included him. She has said previously that she tossed the exams because most of the applicants failed.

However, the investigator concluded that her "desire to hire her nephew Rhett Hughes was the central issue that led to her conduct."

Moving forward in the hiring process "appears to be an unprecedented action which resulted in the negligent hiring of individuals who failed a required employment exam contrary to the City of Lakeland Civil Service Rules and LPD's own general orders," Brown wrote.

City Manager Doug Thomas placed Assistant Chief Larry Giddens in charge of the department while the city reviewed the report.

"Given that many of the allegations in the report concern administrative City of Lakeland policies and procedures, it is appropriate that the city review the matter further to determine if any violations of policies have occurred. Any subsequent actions if indicated will be taken following the results of that review," Thomas said in a statement.

Giddens released a statement late Thursday saying he wanted to "assure the citizens of Lakeland that the men and women of the Lakeland Police Department will continue to deliver professional police services as we move through this transitional period."

The State Attorney's Office report also notes that "rumors" within the department suggest Womack "intends to exact retribution against opposing LPD members in her remaining three months as the Lakeland Chief of Police. These rumors are troubling, and the situation merits close monitoring."

Womack did not respond Thursday to a phone message from ABC Action News.

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