When a Plantation police sergeant escaped criminal charges in 2008 for recording an inappropriate video of an inebriated driver after a car crash — an act that constituted misdemeanor voyeurism — he was suspended and warned to watch his Ps and Qs or his rank, and perhaps his job, would be at risk, documents show.
Sgt. Al Stanco, 60, now finds himself again on administrative leave while internal affairs conducts an investigation, according to agency officials. He was notified and placed on leave with pay March 30. The allegations sparking the current investigation have not been disclosed.
This is Stanco’s 17th internal investigation since getting hired in 1990. Although only three were sustained, it is an unusually high number of incidents, experts say.
Sergeant over the Road Patrol Traffic Unit, Stanco’s annual salary is $95,310. Department officials declined to comment on Stanco’s past or present conduct.
Stanco admitted to using his cellphone to record bedside video of a 22-year-old woman while she masturbated and moaned in an emergency room at Westside Regional Hospital on Sept. 30, 2007, records show.
“In the context of this investigation, you have been characterized as ‘rough around the edges,’ being ‘offensive’ and demonstrating a tendency to ‘say and do things that are ill conceived, out of place and not well timed,'” then-Chief Larry Massey wrote in a Jan. 25, 2008 notice of discipline. “Any subsequent violations of [department] policies will result in a demotion in rank and could result in your termination. Please govern yourself accordingly.”
When reached by telephone, Stanco declined to comment. “You can call my [police union] attorney, maybe he knows something about it,” he said.
His lawyer, Robert Buschel, who has represented Stanco in past matters, said Wednesday he was “unaware of any pending [internal] charges.”
Stanco told investigators he shot five to 10 seconds of video with audio of the woman’s movements from her chest up but immediately deleted it because he realized “that what he had done was wrong and possibly constituted a criminal act,” according to an internal affairs report on the 2007 incident.
Under oath, Stanco said the woman was covered with a sheet and “he did not video tape any part of her bare body below her neck.”
His intention, he said, was to show his teenage daughter the video as a warning of the effects of drug and alcohol use, the report said.
“Your performance and poor judgment in this matter have been a disappointment and a violation of trust,” Massey wrote. “I have decided not to terminate your employment or demote you in rank; however, outside of that I am imposing the maximum discipline outlined within department policy.”
Stanco was suspended without pay for 20 days, ordered to attend an ethics course and had a pending pay raise postponed.
The sergeant engaged in “an act that constitutes a misdemeanor of the first degree,” the report said. But because Stanco was given immunity when he made his admission, it could not be used against him in a criminal prosecution. For that reason the case was not referred to the Broward State Attorney’s Office, according to the report.
“The moment he decided to video record [the woman] without her knowledge, he stepped over the line and performed an action that was completely unrelated to his job task requirement,” the report said.
The video came to light when Stanco mentioned it “out of the blue” to a lieutenant three days after the woman was involved in a single-car crash. Stanco told the lieutenant he was on scene after the woman had been found asleep at the wheel at a gas station, was awakened by a cop knocking on her window, put her car in gear, drove off and crashed, the report said.
Stanco said that when he was at her hospital bedside the woman seemed “totally out of it” and he held her hands to prevent her from pulling out her catheter. While sharing the account with the lieutenant, Stanco took out his personal cellphone and said he took photos of the woman when she began masturbating and moaning loudly in her hospital room, the report said.
The lieutenant reported that his facial expression must have registered shock, because “Sgt. Stanco then closed up his telephone and stated that he was going to take a picture of [the woman] but decided not to,” the report said.
Of Stanco’s 17 internal affairs investigations over the course of his 26-year tenure with Plantation police, three have been sustained. The rate of nearly one investigation per year is rather high, experts say.
“It seems like quite a lot,” said Kenneth Harms, a police policy expert and former Miami police chief.
Officers who develop a pattern of questionable judgment can be a problem for departments, Harms said. “You do not look for officers with those kinds of attributes, you don’t want to hire them, but if you have them, you need to control their aberrant behavior.”
In contrast to Stanco’s 17 investigations, a Plantation detective who was fired a week ago for sending a lewd video of himself to the victim of a crime he was investigating had three internal affairs matters in his 21 years with the agency. And none were sustained, according to police officials.
Among Stanco’s unsustained charges were accusations of swearing at a woman making a complaint, requesting that the subject of a fraud investigation who made a donation to the police union be “cut some slack,” an on-duty fender bender and displaying his Taser and pointing its red laser sighting on the courthouse wall while waiting to testify before the grand jury, records show.
Stanco’s first sustained policy violation was in 1996 for commenting about a female colleague’s “tight jeans.” Although it was a policy violation, no action was taken, records show.
In 2002, he was reprimanded for breaching the chain of command when he asked for permission to attend a hostage-negotiation class.
The hospital video incident was combined with another allegation involving the same woman at a restaurant for Stanco’s third, and most serious, sustained charges. He was found guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer, as well as conformance to laws and unsatisfactory performance.
It is unclear what the woman’s relationship was to Stanco. Records show her brother was a police explorer at the time of the incident and she later married a Plantation officer.
The incident at the restaurant happened in August 2007, a month before the woman’s car crash. She had accompanied another Plantation cop, the one she later married, on a ride-along. When they met up with Stanco and others for a meal break at an International House of Pancakes, Stanco made “obscene gestures, innuendo and comments” to the woman, according to an anonymous letter to the police chief.
The letter said Stanco patted his thigh and offered her a seat on his lap, commented on her breast size and put a spoonful of ice cream in his mouth and offered her a taste, records show.
Stanco denied the comments and sexual innuendos. He said he patted the seat next to him when she arrived because she seemed uncertain of where to sit and the ice cream exchange was related to a prior joke, records show.
The woman told investigators she took Stanco’s remarks at IHOP “lightheartedly” and her brother, the police explorer, had characterized Stanco as “basically, he’s kind of like my uncle, he flirts with girls and that’s the way he is.” She said she took no offense and also had no interest in pursuing a voyeurism prosecution.
“All eyes are upon you in your leadership role and everything you do must be in the interest of maintaining a professional level of organizational behavior and setting an example for your subordinates,” the chief wrote. “It also requires building and maintaining community trust, not eroding it.”
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