3 Polk deputies accused of tampering with evidence after money goes missing

All three deputies resigned following their arrests

(Left) John Raczynski, (Center) Jamal Lawson, (Right) Garrett Cook
(Left) John Raczynski, (Center) Jamal Lawson, (Right) Garrett Cook (Copyright 2021 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

POLK COUNTY, Fla. – Three former Polk County deputies face charges after money went missing from an arrest in December, according to the sheriff’s office.

John Raczynski, Jamal Lawson and Garrett Cook were all arrested Friday, according to a news release, and each resigned upon being arrested. They would have been fired if they had not resigned, according to the sheriff’s office.

According to a PCSO news release, an investigation into the trio started with an arrest on Dec. 21, 2020. Records show Raczynski, 24, pulled over a woman in Winter Haven and ended up searching her car, ultimately finding narcotics in the car and $723 on the woman. Lawson, 29, and Cook, 26, arrived as backup during the search, according to the sheriff’s office.

On Dec. 23, 2020, Raczynski placed 13 items of evidence in a property-and-evidence locker at a substation, according to records, but the money was not included nor was it logged in the arrestee’s property at the jail.

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The release said the woman contacted the sheriff’s office on March 15, inquiring about the money and her cellphone. Supervisors began an investigation into the missing property and detectives found a supplemental report created by Raczynski on March 16, adding $723 in the “property insert” portion of the report, according to investigators. Records show that Raczynski electronically signed the report, which was also electronically witnessed by Cook. Investigators said they later determined that Raczynski used Cook’s password to fraudulently report him as a witness.

Investigators said they questioned the property and evidence officer who told them Raczynski asked to speak with her on her personal phone. The officer told detectives that the former deputy admitted to her that the money was unaccounted for and said Lawson moved evidence from his trunk to Raczynski’s trunk, and that they could not find the money after that, according to investigators.

Raczynski asked if there was a way he could replace it, records show. The property officer checked all of the databases, reports and locations where any record of the money might be, but could not locate it, according to the release. She then reported the phone call to her supervisor, who then called Raczynski’s sergeant, detectives said.

Detectives said the sergeant then questioned Raczynski about the money and told his superior that he and Lawson would “make it right” by submitting their own money into evidence. The sergeant told him not to and a criminal investigation began, according to the release.

Raczynski now faces charges of conspiracy to commit evidence tampering, official misconduct, tampering or fabricating evidence, forgery and uttering forged instrument.

Lawson faces conspiracy to commit evidence tampering, official misconduct and tampering or fabricating evidence.

Cook faces conspiracy to commit evidence tampering.

“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,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. “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.”

Investigators said an extensive audit is being conducted of all three deputies’ criminal case reports and lists of seized property, adding that more charges could be filed if additional discrepancies are found.


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About the Author:

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com. He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.