(News Herald (Panama City, FL) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 15--PANAMA CITY -- A Panama City police officer has been demoted and suspended for misusing police software to scan confidential documents of citizens for personal reasons.
Mark Aviles was suspended without pay and demoted from major to captain in June after he misused his rank and authority to access the driver and vehicle information database (DAVID) files of multiple citizens for personal reasons. The search was conducted while Aviles was off-duty and was not for law enforcement purposes, internal investigators found, which opened PCPD up to penalties that could've affected their law enforcement capabilities, city records state.
Aviles told internal investigators he was concerned an ex-boyfriend of his neighbor could have a history of nefarious activities. His daughter had stayed the night while the ex-boyfriend was in the neighbor's home before the couple separated. Once his neighbor told him she suspected her ex recently placed a tracker on her car, Aviles became suspicious and checked into the ex's background for red flags.
"If at the time, I thought that this was a misuse of the DAVID system, I wouldn't have done it," Aviles told internal investigators. "... What was occurring in my mind was there was an issue, I'm a cop, let me see what I can find out."
Aviles requested a subordinate officer run the ex-boyfriend's name through the program, since he was off duty and only certain terminals have access to DAVID. He then accessed 34 confidential reports on at least six people connected to the ex-boyfriend.
Each time DAVID is started, the system explicitly notes that use for personal reasons could result in civil or criminal proceedings against any person involved. When the program questioned Sgt. Phil Himes about the purpose of his search, Aviles told him it was to verify an identity.
Himes said he assumed the request was legitimate and obliged.
"In my mind, I believed it was," Himes said. "I would hope my peers above me would understand the use of the system and so I personally took it on his word that's what it was for, but I did not ask him."
Aviles was unable to find any records substantiating his concerns and told investigators he didn't realize until later he made a mistake.
"I just wasn't thinking about it," Aviles told investigators. "It didn't occur to me ... ."
Aviles' letter of suspension and demotion, dated June 13, said his misuse of the PCPD computer systems opened the agency to civil litigation. His actions also could have jeopardized the entire department's access to confidential records through DAVID adversely affecting law enforcement throughout the city, according to Police Chief Scott Ervin.
"This conduct certainly is not reflective of the rank of major, the goals and objectives of this agency, as well as the professionalism that the organization works hard to maintain," Ervin wrote.
Aviles was suspended for five days without pay and demoted to captain. His employee records do not indicate a history of similar incidents. The demotion reduces Aviles' salary from $62,175 a year to $59,214. Aviles also was removed from access to all external privileged computer databases until further notice.
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