Pinellas deputy fired for falsely accusing innocent person of drug activity, sheriff says

A Pinellas deputy is out of a job after an investigation found that he falsely accused an innocent person of being involved in drug activity in order to cover up the fact that he surfed the internet for several hours in his patrol vehicle.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said 29-year-old Deputy Joshua Sacino was assigned to proactive traffic enforcement duties in the area of Seminole Boulevard on March 30, 2022.

"Deputy Sacino ignored these instructions and sat idle in his agency-assigned patrol vehicle for over four hours surfing the internet," a release from the agency said.

When he was instructed to provide statistics and related case numbers to his supervisor, investigators said Sacino lied and told his supervisor that he had conducted one traffic stop and provided a driver with a "verbal warning," even though he did not actually conduct any traffic stops.

The sheriff's office then said Sacino ignored requests from his supervisors about the case number and documentation of the traffic stop.

After being questioned about his inactivity that night, Sacino drove to a nearby Walmart and found a vehicle legally parked in the store's parking lot, investigators said.

Even though the owner of the car had not done anything wrong or illegal, the sheriff's office said Sacino ran the vehicle's plates without ever leaving his patrol car, and then left the Walmart lot.

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The sheriff's office said Sacino later fabricated a report and entered it into the agency's report management system, writing that an anonymous transient had flagged him down regarding a suspicious vehicle involved in narcotics activity.

Sacino then wrote that he located the vehicle and falsely documented the owner's involvement in drug activity, according to investigators.

After reviewing Sacino's computer-aided dispatch activity, body-worn camera, and in-car activity for his shift, supervisors questioned the deputy about whether the traffic stop actually occurred.

Sacino told his supervisors he pulled up next to the vehicle, made contact with the occupants, and gave them a verbal warning for a traffic violation -- but when confronted further, they said he then admitted that the traffic stop never happened, and that he made up the entire incident.

The sheriff's office said Sacino intentionally and knowingly falsified the suspicious vehicle report, admitting there was no transient who flagged him down. He told investigators it was just a car parked in the parking lot, and that he had no reason to suspect its owners would be involved with drugs.

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"Deputy Sacino intentionally attached a citizen and their vehicle to a narcotic-related report that could have adversely impacted the citizen," the sheriff's office said. "The report has been deleted from the system and there is no adverse impact to the innocent citizen."

During questioning, Sacino further admitted to fabricating information into official documents, telling investigators, "It is very serious, and it's criminal grounds and grounds to be fired. It's a serious matter."

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri terminated Sacino's employment on Tuesday. He had been hired by the sheriff's office in Nov. 2017.

"Deputy Sacino did this for self-serving reasons, to conceal his lack of activity and incompetence," Gualtieri said, adding that Sacino did so "with no regard of the consequences this report could have had for the citizen involved, or for any citizen operating that vehicle in the future."