LONGWOOD, Fla. – A Longwood officer used the threat of a criminal charge and time behind bars at a juvenile detention facility to get a teenage boy to confess to a crime he didn't commit, according to an internal affairs report.
Police said that on March 26, officer Tyson Coppola observed a silver car run a stop sign, then speed down a road in a residential area as witnesses pointed out the way the vehicle went. Coppola did not have his lights or sirens on, records show.
As he continued looking for the vehicle, he saw a silver car pass a slower driver, then turn into the parking lot of a church.
While Coppola thought the driver was the same one who ran the stop sign, the investigation found that it wasn't, according to the report.
Coppola approached the teenage driver and asked for his license, registration and proof of insurance, but the boy was having trouble locating the documents. He called his mother for help, since it was her vehicle, and she eventually arrived at the scene.
The teen also told Coppola that he only had a driver's permit, not a license, but didn't know he wasn't allowed to drive by himself.
Records show that when the boy's mother arrived, Coppola told her that the teen ran a stop sign, was fleeing from the officer, and aggressively cut off another driver before turning into the parking lot of the church where he has basketball practice.
Coppola told the woman if her son owned up to what he did by having a conversation with Coppola "man to man" then Coppola would only write a ticket for running the stop sign and one for the permit violation, authorities said.
The officer said he was trying to "throw him a bone" and make it a teachable moment while letting his parents handle the discipline.
"If you guys want to kind of encourage him, that's up to you. I'm not trying to step on the toes of parents or anything like that, but I got to do my job according to state statutes, but this is me trying to find a, use a little discretion here alright. What I am telling ya is if he's honest about it, yes it is recorded, but if he's honest about it, two tickets and he's gone. If not, then I am going to have to refer this to the state attorney's office," Coppola said, according to records.
He said if he wanted to pursue the fleeing and eluding, his supervisor would have to come to the scene and it would possibly result in the boy being arrested, the report said.
"Here's the point: Your driving record doesn't have any issues, but I could actually slap a felony on you, take you down to juvenile assessment, let you spend four hours down there until they could come pick you up and pay $250 to get you out," Coppola reportedly told the boy.
All the while, the boy's mother was questioning the officer's version of events, because the area he said the incident occurred was not within the boy's route to the church.
Records show Coppola told the woman a path the car had taken, when in actuality, the vehicle was out of his sight shortly after it ran the stop sign, so the officer wouldn't have seen its path.
After the traffic stop, the boy's mother went to the area and spoke with a homeowner who said he was outside when a silver car ran a stop sign, but the vehicle was likely a Nissan or an Infinity, not her Chevrolet Malibu. The homeowner made the same statement in the internal affairs report.
When Coppola described the traffic violation court process, he told the family that if the boy pleaded not guilty, then Coppola would likely end up changing the violation to add the fleeing and eluding charge, authorities said. Coppola cited department policy but the investigation found that not only does no policy exist, but there's also no way for an officer to change a civil violation to a criminal one in traffic court.
The lieutenant who conducted the internal affairs investigation asked Coppola why he would lie about department policy.
"I have no good answer for that," Coppola replied, according the report.
Coppola was found to have conducted himself in a way that is unbecoming of an officer. As a result, he was ordered to be suspended for three 12-hour shifts without pay. He'll also be required to complete a remedial training course.