A po­lice, church bal­ance

A TV series shines a spot­light on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Scien­tol­ogy and the Clear­wa­ter po­lice.

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - BY TRACEY MCMANUS Times Staff Writer

CLEAR­WA­TER — The so­cial me­dia com­ments started a few weeks ago, then only in­ten­si­fied, de­volv­ing into what po­lice Chief Dan Slaugh­ter called a “pub­lic re­la­tions night­mare.”

Fol­low­ing two Jan­uary episodes of the Emmy award-win­ning Leah Rem­ini: Scien­tol­ogy and the Af­ter­math A&E series that fo­cused on Clear­wa­ter his­tory, sus­pi­cion on Face­book and Twit­ter rained down on Slaugh­ter’s depart­ment and its in­ter­ac­tion with the Church of Scien­tol­ogy.

Crit­ics at­tacked the fact that Scien­tol­ogy can hire off-duty of­fi­cers for se­cu­rity like any other lo­cal church when it is the only one with a doc­u­mented pol­icy for de­stroy­ing en­e­mies’ lives. They also crit­i­cized Slaugh­ter’s cor­dial pub­lic in­ter­ac­tion with an or­ga­ni­za­tion in­ves­ti­gated, though not charged, by the FBI in 2009 in con­nec­tion with hu­man traf­fick­ing.

The at­tacks prompted Slaugh­ter to take

the rare step of post­ing a video re­sponse on­line and a guest col­umn in the Tampa Bay Times ex­plain­ing that de­spite the church’s his­tory, he is ob­li­gated by law to treat Scien­tol­ogy like any other fed­er­ally rec­og­nized re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tion.

The bulk of more than 300 com­menters on the po­lice depart­ment’s Face­book post of the video only hit harder.

“It looks like Scien­tol­ogy has you and the rest of the force right where they want you … in their back pocket,” Cindy Doss re­sponded.

The so­cial me­dia frenzy didn’t un­earth many new de­tails. But it re­vived in­credulity over Clear­wa­ter’s dy­namic with the con­tro­ver­sial church: Some see the city as sim­ply co­ex­ist­ing while oth­ers see that as en­abling.

“We have a long his­tory of do­ing the right thing,” Slaugh­ter said in an in­ter­view. “For some rea­son I’ve be­come the mi­cro­cosm for the last 30 years.”

•••

Af­ter ar­riv­ing un­der a false name in 1975, Scien­tol­ogy con­cocted a sex-smear cam­paign against then-Mayor Gabe Cazares and framed him in a hi­tand-run. The church also wrote in­ter­nal memos dic­tat­ing plans to take over Clear­wa­ter and in­fil­trate govern­ment of­fices. Clear­wa­ter po­lice be­gan gath­er­ing in­tel­li­gence on Scien­tol­ogy in 1979, around the time 11 high­rank­ing Scien­tol­o­gists were con­victed on charges re­lat­ing to break­ing into fed­eral of­fices in Washington.

For­mer Chief Sid Klein opened his for­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tion in 1981, but it was closed 13 years later with­out pro­duc­ing a sin­gle charge.

Slaugh­ter said that his­tory is not for­got­ten, but cir­cum­stances are dif­fer­ent. The re­al­ity of Scien­tol­ogy’s sta­tus as a fed­er­ally tax-ex­empt re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tion since 1993 means he can’t treat it any dif­fer­ently from down­town’s Peace Me­mo­rial Pres­by­te­rian Church, which has no record of try­ing to take over the city.

“We don’t get to pick and choose whom we pro­tect and serve, and nor should we,” Slaugh­ter said on his Feb. 2 video.

Scien­tol­ogy spokesman Ben Shaw did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment for this ar­ti­cle.

•••

Af­ter the Jan. 29 Af­ter­math episode aired, on­line crit­ics be­gan ques­tion­ing Slaugh­ter’s in­ter­ac­tion with Scien­tol­ogy out­side of rou­tine po­lice work. They shared a photo of him from a 2015 visit to a Scien­tol­ogy’s Foun­da­tion for a Drug Free World of­fice. An­other from 2018 shows Slaugh­ter at Scien­tol­ogy’s Fort Har­ri­son Ho­tel stand­ing with church mem­bers hold­ing awards for com­mu­nity ser­vice, which he did not award to them.

“When you ap­pear in an of­fi­cial po­lice uni­form for a photo with Scien­tol­o­gists at their Front Group fa­cil­ity this is an of­fi­cial EN­DORSE­MENT,” tweeted for­mer Scien­tol­o­gist Marc Headley over the 2015 photo, which Rem­ini retweeted to her 643,000 fol­low­ers.

In June 2014, Ur­ban Land In­sti­tute con­sul­tants said that the “long his­tory of hurt feel­ings” be­tween down­town’s two big­gest play­ers was a prob­lem. They urged the city and Scien­tol­ogy to work to­gether to re­vi­tal­ize the strug­gling down­town. So when he be­came chief two months later, Slaugh­ter said he de­cided to ac­cept in­vi­ta­tions to ap­pear at events from groups all over the city. In­clud­ing Scien­tol­ogy.

But in an in­ter­view with the

Tampa Bay Times, Rem­ini said an ap­pear­ance by a po­lice chief at a Scien­tol­ogy event can­not be likened to an ap­pear­ance at an­other church. Un­like other re­li­gions, Scien­tol­ogy has writ­ten poli­cies about ma­nip­u­lat­ing civic cir­cles to gain le­git­i­macy. A 1969 pol­icy dic­tates how to “build a pub­lic im­age” by go­ing into a com­mu­nity to get seen among “big names” and “get press cov­er­age for ev­ery con­tact.”

“When I was in Scien­tol­ogy, that said to me, they must be okay be­cause the po­lice, the gover­nor, the mayor, wouldn’t be tak­ing pho­tos with them,” said Rem­ini, a for­mer Scien­tol­o­gist who de­fected in 2013. “It le­git­imizes them.”

Slaugh­ter said he is aware of Scien­tol­ogy’s poli­cies but that he had a stan­dard as the new chief to con­sider all in­vi­ta­tions as the city tried to move on from decades of ten­sion. Feed­back over the past few weeks, and the com­mu­nity’s over­whelm­ing urg­ing in 2017 for the City Coun­cil to buy a down­town prop­erty Scien­tol­ogy also wanted, has not been lost on him.

“Four years as chief, now go­ing on five, I can be a lit­tle more choosy,” Slaugh­ter said about pub­lic ap­pear­ances. “I think I’ll con­tinue to vet them as I see fit. I wouldn’t want to go on the record say­ing I’m not go­ing to any more Scien­tol­ogy events, but see if you have any more pho­tos in a cou­ple of years to show me.”

•••

Crit­ics also pointed to the Jan. 29 episode’s scene, filmed on June 20, where Rem­ini, for­mer Scien­tol­ogy spokesman turned critic Mike Rin­der, and long­time ac­tivist and film­maker Mark Bunker sat on a bench in a Scien­tol­ogy-owned park down­town.

Church rep­re­sen­ta­tives Sarah Heller and David Gon­za­lez called po­lice and pro­vided Of­fi­cer Michael Kon­to­di­akos a 2001 per­ma­nent in­junc­tion that pro­hibits Bunker from be­ing on cer­tain church properties.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, three of­fi­cers ini­tially re­sponded. When Cpl. Karl Wass­mer ar­rived, he de­ter­mined the in­junc­tion did not ap­ply. Wass­mer told Heller over the phone she had to ap­pear to is­sue a tres­pass warn­ing, but Heller said she would not, be­cause of the Af­ter­math cam­eras, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

Wass­mer cleared the call and Bunker, Rin­der, Rem­ini and the cam­era crew vol­un­tar­ily left, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

“The prob­lem is Scien­tol­ogy has fig­ured out how to game the sys­tem and how to use (the po­lice) to some ex­tent,” Rin­der told the Times. “Maybe it’s above the po­lice depart­ment, where they are so ter­ri­fied of ever do­ing any­thing Scien­tol­ogy is go­ing to come af­ter them for (that even for a) sim­ple call about Mark Bunker sit­ting on a park bench, who­ever the of­fi­cers are have to call their bosses.”

But Slaugh­ter said the call was han­dled rea­son­ably, with young of­fi­cers call­ing a cor­po­ral for backup for a del­i­cate sit­u­a­tion where cam­eras were rolling. And af­ter the in­ci­dent, Slaugh­ter re­voked Scien­tol­ogy’s af­fi­davit on file that al­lows po­lice to is­sue tres­pass warn­ings to cit­i­zens when a prop­erty owner is not able to be present.

•••

In their scru­tiny of the depart­ment, crit­ics also al­leged that Clear­wa­ter po­lice couldn’t be im­par­tial to­ward Scien­tol­ogy while of­fi­cers are be­ing paid for work­ing ex­tra duty jobs for the church, as they do other churches and busi­nesses.

Scien­tol­ogy hir­ing po­lice for off-duty se­cu­rity dates back to around 2000 un­der Klein, when protests peaked be­tween Scien­tol­ogy and mem­bers of the Lisa McPher­son Trust, a group formed af­ter a woman died in 1995 af­ter be­ing held in the Fort Har­ri­son Ho­tel for 17 days.

To­day only 3.4 per­cent of the depart­ment’s ex­tra duty as­sign­ments are for Scien­tol­ogy, Slaugh­ter said. Although he worked ex­tra duty as­sign­ments for Scien­tol­ogy in 2000 when he was a de­tec­tive, Slaugh­ter said it does not taint im­par­tial­ity.

“I never felt I was go­ing to com­pro­mise my own in­tegrity or my own oath for those fi­nances,” Slaugh­ter said, adding he never over­saw the ex­tra duty de­tail in 2000, an­other al­le­ga­tion be­ing swirled on so­cial me­dia.

As­sis­tant City At­tor­ney Matthew Smith said Slaugh­ter can’t for­bid his of­fi­cers from ac­cept­ing paid off-duty jobs for Scien­tol­ogy while of­fer­ing the pro­gram to other churches.

Maria Haber­feld, a pro­fes­sor of po­lice sci­ence at John Jay Col­lege of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice in New York, agreed. But she said an ap­pear­ance of a con­flict is why many de­part­ments do not al­low of­fi­cers to work off-duty jobs for any or­ga­ni­za­tion within their ju­ris­dic­tion.

“I don’t be­lieve there is ac­tu­ally ob­jec­tiv­ity when you’re paid by some­one to do ex­tra work,” Haber­feld said.

Klein, who re­tired in 2010 af­ter 29 years as chief, had a dra­mat­i­cally fraught re­la­tion­ship with Scien­tol­ogy, which in­cluded a 1997 protest down­town where thou­sands of Scien­tol­o­gists chanted “Sid Klein, what’s your crime?” His po­lice depart­ment helped in­ves­ti­gate the 1995 death of McPher­son, which led Pinel­las-Pasco State At­tor­ney Bernie McCabe to bring charges he later dropped. Still, Klein said he had to “treat ev­ery­body equally” and “Chief Slaugh­ter is do­ing just that.”

“I don’t make a de­ter­mi­na­tion of what’s a re­li­gion and what isn’t,” Klein said. “We have to treat the Church of Scien­tol­ogy just like any other church.”

Klein said he con­curred with Lt. Ray Em­mons’ 1983 re­port stat­ing Scien­tol­ogy was a crim­i­nal money-mak­ing scheme, but fed­eral of­fi­cials ul­ti­mately never took up the case and it closed in 1994.

•••

Slaugh­ter said he does not have a for­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tion open into the Scien­tol­ogy in­sti­tu­tion but in­ves­ti­gates com­plaints as they are re­ported. He said he has mul­ti­ple cases open in­volv­ing Scien­tol­o­gists.

De­spite decades of in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism, doc­u­men­taries and ac­tivists that have ex­posed al­leged crimes by Scien­tol­ogy around the world, Slaugh­ter said there is not an over­whelm­ing pat­tern of al­le­ga­tions that have been filed with his depart­ment to build a lo­cal case on the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“As we know from his­tory, the Em­mons case, they weren’t able to get it fur­ther than the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, they weren’t able to get it to a pros­e­cutable point,” Slaugh­ter said. “I haven’t had any­body come in my front door that’s pro­vided us any ac­tion­able in­for­ma­tion that I’m aware of.”

Even if there were, it would likely re­quire fed­eral re­sources.

So that leaves Slaugh­ter, he said, bal­anc­ing the his­tory of this church and this city, and what he sees as his duty.

“I don’t think we for­get,’’ he said, “but we con­tinue to just do our job and try to be fair.”

DOU­GLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Clear­wa­ter po­lice Chief dan Slaugh­ter says he has to treat Scien­tol­ogy as he would any tax-ex­empt re­li­gious group.

Ac­tor Leah Rem­ini has been crit­i­cal of Clear­wa­ter po­lice.

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