Florida Keys News
Friday, December 21, 2012
SWAT deputy off team for now

A Monroe County Sheriff's Office deputy was suspended from the SWAT team for six months after an Internal Affairs probe into the theft of an automatic assault rifle, handguns and other tactical equipment from his patrol car.

Supervisors also recommended that Sgt. Ken Fricke be suspended from work for 14 days, but Fricke requested a mediation hearing with a union representative, and a seven-day unpaid suspension was agreed upon, said Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Deputy Becky Herrin.

"He can reapply for SWAT after six months if he is in good standing and a spot is available," Sheriff-elect Rick Ramsay said, adding that doesn't mean Fricke will automatically make the team.

Internal Affairs (IA) officers found Fricke violated official procedures and directives and also sustained a neglect of duty allegation, according to Sheriff's Office IA records.

Fricke lost seven days paid vacation due to the suspension, and he remains on road patrol in Marathon, Herrin said.

The Sheriff's Office hired a locksmith to inspect Fricke's patrol car who determined there were no signs of forced entry and that it appeared that none of the locks on the car had been tampered with or "picked," Ramsay said.

"Our assumption is that the car was unlocked, given there were no signs of forced entry," Ramsay said, adding there was no way to prove whether the car was locked or not.

Fricke also said a key to the trunk that had been in the center console was missing, according to the IA documents. The patrol car has since been fitted with different locks, Ramsay said.

Ramsay put in place the policy calling for SWAT members to store guns and gear in their homes when off-duty.

"It is not uncommon for gang members to target police cars looking for high-powered weapons, ballistics vests and similar items," Ramsay said.

"It's not a big problem here yet, but we see it in big cities and we don't want copycat instances happening down here."

Ramsay said he was disappointed the theft occurred, but added that Fricke is a good officer.

"It's an unfortunate lesson that I hope everyone learned from," Ramsay said. "We worked quickly through good partnerships in the community to get these weapons off the street."

On Sept. 25, Fricke reported the burglary of his county-issued car and theft of two Glock pistols, one .45-caliber and the other .40-caliber, a Colt M4 assault rifle, ammunition, a bulletproof vest and other SWAT tactical gear.

A countywide search ensued for the weapons and gear as Fricke was investigated for violating the department's policy regarding gear and firearms storage.

Chapter 31 of the Sheriff's Office general orders state: "Deputies, while off-duty shall not store firearms inside their issued vehicle unless the firearm is secured with a locking device/container mounted to the inside of the vehicle."

It also states: "Deputies while off-duty shall not store issued laptop computers, ballistic vests and any clothing with police identifiers in their issued vehicle."

Kalvin Cowger, 17, of Big Pine Key, was charged with possession of stolen property and theft. Both are second-degree felonies that, for adults, carry a combined maximum of 30 years in prison.

Anthony Ostrander, 26, also of Big Pine Key, was charged with felony dealing in stolen property, and three misdemeanors: driving with a suspended license, having an unassigned tag on a vehicle and possessing drug paraphernalia.

Steven W. McClelland, 32, was federally indicted in November on charges of possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon; possession of a stolen firearm and ammunition; and possession of an automatic weapon. Prosecutors allege he gave Cowger drugs in exchange for the M4 rile and ammunition.

This was the second time Fricke reported such a theft.

In August 2009, Fricke reported the theft from his Sheriff's Office vehicle of a county-issued Remington 12-gauge shotgun and .45-caliber Glock handgun, as well as his personal .40-caliber Glock.

Both times the vehicles were parked at Fricke's Big Pine Key home, and there were no signs of forced entry, according to the Monroe County Sheriff's Office.

The incident was not documented in Fricke's personnel file because at the time there was no policy prohibiting deputies from storing gear and guns in their patrol cars. In the 2009 case, neither Glock handgun was recovered.

The shotgun was found later at a Marathon apartment complex, reports state.

City of Key West records indicate Fricke was fired from the Key West Police Department 14 years ago for a litany of complaints that included sleeping on duty, misusing city equipment and falsifying information about the pat-down of a female bar patron.

Fricke worked with Key Colony Beach Police Department between his time with Key West police and the Sheriff's Office. He was hired for part-time work Dec. 26, 2003, and began working full time on April 23, 2004.

Fricke was hired at the Sheriff's Office in June 2005, and has no disciplinary history in the seven years he has been employed there, according to records. Those same records indicate Fricke has received 17 commendations during that time.

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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