A total of 10 Key West Police officers, including the chief, two captains and a lieutenant, received reprimands and, in some cases, suspensions because they helped Chief Sean Brandenburg move into his new home while on duty last year.
The disciplinary actions went into effect Wednesday, Oct. 7. Chief Sean Brandenburg was suspended without pay for five days and each of the two captains, Capt. Juan Torres and Capt. Randall Smith, were suspended for three days. The lieutenant, David Black, and six officers — Alexandre Gaufillet, Tyler Getchel, Randall Hartle, Matthew Johnson, Michael Shouldice and an unidentified officer received a reprimand and will take remedial training classes. The sixth officer was out of town and must be notified upon return before the reprimand takes places.
City Manager Greg Veliz announced the disciplinary actions at the Tuesday, Oct. 6, Key West City Commission meeting. Reading from a prepared statement, Veliz said he was announcing the actions “with a great deal of regret.”
“As with any situation where a co-worker moves into a new home, there were many people that wanted to help. Unfortunately, many of the officers there that day were not only logged in ‘on duty,’ but were also in uniform and driving city-owned vehicles. These actions are a direct violation of the city’s Code of Conduct,” Veliz told commissioners.
Brandenburg was at Tuesday’s city commission meeting but, according to police spokesperson Alyson Crean, would have no comment on the incident. Mayor Teri Johnston said Wednesday that the officers made an error in judgement, and helping the chief carry boxes off of a moving van while on duty was “not an appropriate use of a police force.”
“It’s just something you cannot do,” she said. “It is so wrong from so many optics. It was morally wrong.”
According to Veliz, the incident took place on July 15, 2019. Chief Brandenburg was moving into a new house in New Town and had notified Veliz about the move, taking the day off but still officially on duty. Veliz said the two unidentified captains, lieutenant and officers came to help with the move but were on duty and driving their police cars at the time.
Veliz said he got a call from a resident that day asking if there had been a murder in the neighborhood because of the large police presence on the New Town street. Veliz said he called the police department and was told the officers at the chief’s new home were all off duty. Veliz asked that the police cruisers be moved away from the scene because it “was a bad look” even though officers are allowed to take their assigned cruisers home when not on duty.
The matter was dropped until last week, when the editors of Key West the Newspaper brought in photographs of police officers in uniform moving boxes off of a moving van at Brandenburg’s house, Veliz said. After an investigation, with which Veliz said the involved officers cooperated, the disciplinary actions were taken.
In addition to five days’ suspension without pay, Chief Brandenburg was ordered to repay the city for the time the officers spend helping him. Veliz said it amounted to approximately one hour, at a cost of $681.
“He [Brandenburg] was disciplined because he knew what was going on. The problem I had with him is he knew they were there on duty,” Veliz said, adding is it unclear whether the lower-ranking officers were ordered by their superiors to assist with the move.
The remedial training for the officers who were not suspended will involve “showing them where this was bad,” Veliz said.
“Actions such as these weaken [the] relationship with our citizens, the very individuals we serve every day,” Veliz told commissioners in his written statement Tuesday evening. “I continue to have confidence in our Chief of Police and all of our dedicated officers. While the actions of July 15 showed a lapse in judgement, I believe the chief remains committed to fulfilling his duties and, after a long and decorated career, deserves the opportunity to do so.
“The City of Key West remains committed to serving its residents and operating in an atmosphere of transparency,” Veliz’s statement read.