On Friday evening, March 19, 2021, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office arrested three PCSO deputies and charged them with felonies related to evidence tampering. All three resigned upon their arrests; they would have been terminated had they not resigned.
The investigation began when a suspect who was arrested on December 21, 2020, inquired about the return of her personal property on March 15, 2021. On March 15th, she initially contacted the PCSO Property and Evidence Section and was directed to the district where she was arrested. She informed the district that she was missing $723.00 and her cell phone. At that time, supervisors who were alerted to the missing property immediately began an investigation.
The original arrest occurred after a traffic stop in Winter Haven, during which the deputy who pulled her over, Deputy John Raczynski, conducted a search of her vehicle and found narcotics and cash. Two other deputies arrived as backup units, Deputy Jamal Lawson and Deputy Garrett Cook.
Raczynski documented in his report that in addition to the narcotics, “the driver was found to have a large amount of US currency inside her right pants pocket. The denominations of the US currency are consistent with small narcotic sales.” Based on this evidence, combined with the nature of the narcotics located, the narcotics violations were elevated as Possession with Intent to Sell charges. On December 23rd, Raczynski placed 13 items of evidence in a property and evidence storage locker at his substation. The currency, which he documented in the probable cause affidavit and PCSO incident report, was not listed as an item of evidence, nor was it logged in the arrestee’s property at the jail.
The arrestee contacted PCSO on March 15, 2021, inquiring about her money and cell phone. During the investigation, detectives found a supplemental report created by Raczynski on March 16th, adding an item of evidence in the “Property insert” portion of the report, U.S. Currency valued at $723.00. Raczynski electronically signed the report, and the report was electronically notary approved (officially witnessed) by Cook. This electronic notary was later determined to be fraudulent.
Detectives interviewed a PCSO Property & Evidence Officer, who told them that on March 15th, Raczynski called her at work and asked her to call him back from her personal cell phone. When she did, he told her that all of the evidence from the December arrest was accounted for except the money. He told her that Lawson moved evidence from his trunk to Raczynski’s trunk, and that they could not find the money after that. Raczynski asked the P&E Officer if there was something he could do to replace the money. After the phone call, the P&E Officer checked all of the databases, reports, and locations at P&E where any record of the money might be, but could not locate it. She then reported the suspicious phone call to her supervisor. Her supervisor called Raczynski’s Sergeant.
The Sergeant called Raczynski and asked him about the phone call to P&E, and the missing money. Raczynski told his Sergeant that he and Lawson were going to “make it right” by submitting their own money into evidence to replace it. The Sergeant instructed Raczynski that was not proper procedure, and to take no further action. An internal and criminal investigation was initiated at that time.
On March 19th, detectives interviewed Lawson. He confirmed the events of the original arrest and that a large amount of money was removed from the arrestee. He gave conflicting stories of where the money was placed after being seized, but then said that a couple of days later, Raczynski noticed the money was missing and asked Lawson and Cook about it. Lawson said at that time they discussed a plan to each contribute money to replace it, and submit it into evidence, but that never happened. Raczynski called Lawson on March 15th, at which time Lawson sent Raczynski $500.00 via CashApp. The plan was for Raczynski to add the remaining $223.00 of his own money, and submit it to P&E.
When that attempt failed, Lawson asked for the money back via CashApp.
Sufficient probable cause was established to charge Lawson with violating:
· FSS 777.04(3) Conspiracy to commit tampering with evidence, for conspiring with Cook and Raczynski in unlawful tampering or fabricating evidence (F3)
· FSS 838.022 Official misconduct, for knowingly and intentionally causing another person to falsify an official record to cover up the loss of evidence (F3)
· FSS 918.13 Tampering or fabricating evidence, by transferring money to Raczynski via the CashApp, knowing it was to be unlawfully submitted as evidence (F3)
On March 19th, detectives interviewed Cook. He confirmed the events of the original arrest and that a large amount of money was removed from the arrestee. He said he last saw the bag of evidence sitting on the trunk of a vehicle (he didn’t say which vehicle) and did not recall touching it or putting it into Lawson’s trunk. When Raczynski told him a few days later that the money was missing, Cook said he told Raczynski that they should tell their Sergeant about it, but Raczynski maintained that he did not want to get into trouble and preferred to try to replace the missing money with his own money. During the ensuing months, Cook was aware of the plan to replace the money and that it was not right, but he took no steps to prevent it, nor did he notify his supervisors. He did confirm that Raczynski knew his (Cook’s) password, and that Raczynski likely used it when he fraudulently signed the report as a witness/notary (this was later confirmed by Raczynski). Cook later transferred to another unit within the agency.
Sufficient probable cause was established to charge Cook with violating:
· FSS 777.04(3) Conspiracy to commit tampering with evidence, for conspiring with
Lawson and Raczynski in unlawful tampering or fabricating evidence (F3)
On March 19th, detectives interviewed Raczynski. He confirmed the events of the original arrest, and said all of the evidence was collected and placed into one bag. He said Lawson took the evidence while Raczynski transported the arrestee to the jail. The following day, Raczynski went to submit the evidence, and noticed that the money was missing. He said that the three of them looked extensively for the money but never found it, and hatched a plan to replace it, splitting the cost three ways. He said that on March 15th when he became aware that the arrestee was calling looking for her money, he called Lawson, who sent Raczynski $500.00 via CashApp. On March 16th he created a supplemental report in the system to include with the “property insert,” and used Cook’s password without Cook’s knowledge to notarize it.
Sufficient probable cause was established to charge Raczynski with violating:
· FSS 777.04(3) Conspiracy to commit tampering with evidence, for conspiring with Lawson and Cook in unlawful tampering or fabricating evidence (F3)
· FSS 838.022 Official misconduct, for knowingly and intentionally falsifying an official record to cover up the loss of evidence (F3)
· FSS 918.13 Tampering or fabricating evidence, by obtaining money to submit into evidence, knowing it was to be unlawfully submitted (F3)
· FSS 831.01 Forgery, for forging another deputy’s signature to his report (F3)
· FSS 831.02 Uttering forged instrument, for publishing as true a false and forged record (F3)
Raczynski, Lawson, and Cook were all booked into the Polk County Jail, and later released after posting bond.
John Raczynski is 24 years old. He was hired as detention deputy in October 2017, and transferred to law enforcement as a deputy sheriff in December 2017. Jamal Lawson is 29 years old. He was hired as detention deputy in October 2017, and transferred to law enforcement as a deputy sheriff in December 2017. Garrett Cook is 26 years old. He was hired as a deputy sheriff in August 2016.
The deputies’ commanding officer contacted the State Attorney’s Office and requested that the charges be dropped against the arrestee from the December 21st arrest. An extensive audit of all three deputies’ criminal case reports and lists of seized property and evidence is being conducted at this time. If any additional discrepancies or unlawful activity is found, more charges will be filed against them. “Everyone at this agency knows that they are held to the highest standards, and they also know that if they break the law, we’re going to hold them strictly accountable. I’m angry that these three violated the law, and in the process, betrayed the trust of our citizens. Their actions are reprehensible, and do not reflect the mission and vision of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. I also commend the agency members who immediately took action to do the right thing and correct this unlawful conduct.” – Grady Judd, Sheriff