Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Deputy says reprimand was political

TAVERNIER -- Deputy Matt Koval, a candidate for Monroe County sheriff, has received an official reprimand after an internal affairs investigation found him culpable for allowing another deputy to go on road patrol drunk.

Koval, however, says that the case against him was trumped up after he decided to run for office against Undersheriff Rick Ramsay, who has the support of the Monroe County Sheriff's Office establishment.

Koval was the shift supervisor in Plantation Key on Jan. 9 when Donald Dalton came to work drunk. Dalton, who was subsequently fired, eventually failed two breath tests that morning, in each case blowing nearly twice the legal limit, the internal affairs report says. But by the time he was tested, Dalton had already returned to the station after being on patrol for approximately an hour.

At issue in the Koval investigation was whether he was guilty of neglect for allowing Dalton on the road in the first place, and also whether his response was inadequate once he was told that Dalton might be patrolling while drunk.

In both cases, the MCSO concluded yes.

"You, as the direct supervisor, were responsible for making sure the deputy was fit to carry out his duties," reads a stern May 15 reprimand letter written to Koval by Chief Lou Caputo. "... It was your job to protect the public and your subordinate deputy. You utterly failed in this regard."

According to a case summary prepared by its investigator, Derek Paul, who is Koval's lieutenant, Koval was warned by two deputies prior to roll call that morning that Dalton smelled of alcohol. Koval then went outside to check on Dalton, and after finding nothing untoward, issued Dalton his gun and keys.

After Dalton went on patrol, the deputies once again expressed concerns to Koval about Dalton's state. At that point Koval drove off in search of Dalton. He did not, however, call or radio his underling to order him to stay parked until Koval could arrive.

Dalton instead stayed on the road for approximately 45 more minutes before Koval ordered him back to the station via phone. During that time Dalton conducted two community watches as well as a documented contact with a civilian.

Koval, however, says that his subordinate deputies didn't warn him that Dalton had been drinking prior to roll call. Instead, they merely suggested he go outside and check on Dalton, whom Koval knew had had trouble getting up for that morning's shift. Koval said that upon checking Dalton he saw no signs that the deputy was drunk. Dalton did, however, say that he wasn't feeling well but planned to work anyway. It was only after roll call that the other deputies told Koval of their concern that Dalton had been drinking, he told Paul in investigative interviews.

As for his subsequent course of action, Koval said in a Free Press interview that he chose to look for Dalton rather than call him because he didn't want to give Dalton warning that he might be in trouble. Further, the sheriff candidate said, he figured he'd find Dalton quickly at Circle K, where he usually started his shift.

Koval says the investigation had at least as much to do with his run for sheriff as it did with police work. Though it began well before he formally filed to run, the charges were treated with more gravity after his late February entry in the race against Ramsay, he said.

Prior to that, he said, he had been told he would receive nothing more than a non-disciplinary letter of counseling -- the MCSO's equivalent of a slap on the wrist, Koval said.

Caputo, Koval's Capt. Don Fanelli and Paul, the investigator, have all donated to the Ramsay campaign.

"I think it's definitely politically motivated," said Koval, who is also the subject of a new disciplinary probe, the particulars of which have not yet been made public.

In fact, Koval pointed out, the investigation was conducted by Paul, despite the fact that Paul played a role in the Dalton matter. Koval called Paul upon being told by other deputies of their suspicion that Dalton was drunk and consulted with his superior on the course of action he planned to take. Paul went into the station to assess Dalton later that morning.

A fair investigation, said Koval, would have included a look at Paul's actions in addition to his own and others involved in the situation.

In Caputo's May 15 reprimand, issued after Koval was successfully able to fight a more harsh punishment of four days suspension, the chief expressed his disgust at Koval's suggestion that others should have been investigated as well.

"[R]ather than take some measure of responsibility, you claim you did nothing wrong, and worse, blamed your subordinate deputies and lieutenant, who was not even present," Caputo wrote. "I have lost all confidence in your ability supervise (sic) other deputies."

rsilk@keysnews.com

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