Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri gave boozing deputy one day of paid suspension
PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Records just obtained by 8 On Your Side reveal a Pinellas County deputy who was disciplined last month for drunken misbehavior at a Mothers Against Drunk Driving conference in Fort Lauderdale showed up at that July statewide training event prepared to party.
“The plot thickens,” said former MADD director and anti-DUI attorney Tom Carey after hearing new details. “It seems to be a lot worse than originally presented.”
Michael Szeliga packed a bottle of Jameson Irish whiskey, as part of his luggage, in his sheriff’s patrol car before driving to the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 Hotel in Fort Lauderdale with two other deputies. They were there for two days of DUI law enforcement training.
Szeliga was also supposed to receive a MADD award for making more than 100 DUI arrests. But alcohol got in the way.
According to a 274-page Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office internal affairs investigation, Szeliga ran into trouble when one witness said he arrived staggeringly drunk at the Friday night banquet. That’s where Szeliga was supposed to receive his MADD award in front of about 200 other invited guests.
Gulfport Police Chief Robert Vincent encountered Szeliga outside of the banquet and suggested it wasn’t appropriate for Szeliga to attend the affair due to his intoxication. That lead to “disrespectful” comments Szeliga directed toward Vincent, which prompted Vincent to seek out one of Szeliga’s supervisors and tell him Szeliga was “wasted.”
Szeliga’s supervisor, according to investigative records, smelled alcohol on Szeliga’s breath and ordered him to return to his room and forego the banquet, along with his award.
It turns out, according to the records we’ve just obtained, that Szeliga’s alcohol-infused shenanigans started much earlier in the day.
Szeliga signed in and attended a morning session of the DUI enforcement training but left with two other deputies following the first break. He decided the training was no longer “relevant” to him since he was transferring out of the DUI unit into a detective position. MADD required attendance at all training that weekend in exchange for picking up all the expenses of the conference.
Szeliga told investigators he returned to his hotel room, poured himself a few Coke and whiskey cocktails and headed down to the pool area with the other two deputies who skipped the training. Szeliga said one of the other deputies had also brought a bottle of Crown Royal for the weekend.
Szeliga and the other deputies were on duty when they decided to skip the training and head to the pool. Some deputies went swimming. Szeliga told investigators he played the “cornhole” bean bag game with a fellow deputy while consuming his Jameson cocktails. The game ended when Szeliga saw other deputies leaving the training class at the end of the day. That’s when Szeliga told investigators he headed back to his room.
As evening approached, Szeliga and his Pinellas deputy roommate were dressing for the awards banquet when a fire alarm sounded in their wing of the hotel. That’s when, according to the records, a Pasco County sergeant who runs the DUI squad in that county reported seeing Szeliga in the hotel hallway wearing “nothing but boxer shorts.” The sergeant said, “He was pretty drunk when I saw him,” according to Szeliga’s supervisor.
The Pasco sergeant told investigators Szeliga’s eyes were glassy and his speech was slurred. Szeliga and his deputy roommate later told investigators he was not standing in the hallway in his boxer shorts and insisted he only stuck his head out of the door due to the fire alarm. Szeliga also denied being as drunk as some of the witnesses claimed and insisted he only consumed two or three drinks that he poured for himself from the Jameson bottle in his room.
Szeliga did attend a full day of training on Saturday before driving back to Pinellas County to face the music with his commanders.
Last month, Szeliga received one day of paid suspension for violating the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office “Standard of Conduct” because of his drunken behavior while on duty and his disrespectful remarks directed at the Gulfport chief. He also had to write a letter of apology to Vincent.
Szeliga now works as a detective in the sheriff’s crimes against children unit. He declined to comment when news of his MADD escapade first broke last month and couldn’t be reached Wednesday regarding the new details.
Back in October, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri credited Szeliga with being a good deputy but also expressed his disapproval of the MADD affair. “It was wrong, and again, one of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard of,” Gualtieri said. “When I first heard about it, that was (what) my reaction was. ‘Come on, you’ve got to be kidding me. Really?’”