The Photoshop™ cop

Ken Kokotek mocked his superiors on the Internet. Now he's paying for it.

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Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis, who is also African-American, is the butt of numerous visual jokes. In one instance, the photo manipulation shows Harmon with his face planted firmly in Davis' posterior as Mayor Baker looks on, reflecting Kokotek's view that the chief is a pawn of the mayor's office.

"I was trying to bring attention to the problems going on [in the department]," Kokotek says. "I would see these decisions and this would be my response to it. Either you get mad or you laugh at it and do a little satire."

Over the years, Picasso gained a following on the website. Fans sent him tips on how to animate images and make "JibJab"-type video clips.

"That was great when I learned how to animate," Kokotek laughs. "[Harmon's] eyes could shift and his ears puff out. Those are things people noticed about him."

Unsurprisingly, not everyone was a fan.

On the afternoon of May 8, Kokotek appeared before a Chain of Command Board consisting of Chief Harmon, Assistant Chief Williams, Major Bevan and other supervisors. Internal affairs investigator Jane Story placed one of the retirement party invitations in front of Kokotek.

"Are you identifying yourself as Picasso?" she asked.

"Yes, I am," he replied.

For the next 30 minutes, she grilled Kokotek over dozens of images found on LEOaffairs.com and his personal website, the SPPD Insider. She questioned if he knew that the pictures were discriminatory. He responded they were "parody" and "satire."

"I don't write well," he told her. "I do draw. I do work with photos and do arts things. That was my way of expressing myself."

He continued, "I thought I had a First Amendment right to speak out on a site where I stayed anonymous."

That day, the board made no decision. Kokotek's retirement party went on as planned. He says a diverse group of officers came.

Two months later, on July 24, the Chain of Command Board met again and determined Kokotek was in violation of three SPPD regulations and two city rules, including a provision that prohibits employees from "creating or posting ... cartoons, drawings or caricatures which denigrate or make light of any individual or group based on race, gender, sexual orientation" or other protected classes.

The board concluded that if Kokotek were not already retired, he would have been terminated. As part of the decision, his file will be given to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement recommending his law enforcement certification be revoked.

"I can't have police officers in the department doing things like that that show an aversion to any group or sexual orientation or race or anything," explains Chief Harmon (he says he was not personally offended by the images of him). "I think there was a lot of undertone in all of [the pictures]."

As far as Kokotek's rights: "If he were a private citizen, I'd protect his right all day long," Harmon responds. "But he wasn't. He was a city employee and they are held to a different standard."

Mayor Rick Baker and Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis did not return a call for comment. Assistant Chief Luke Williams and Major Melanie Bevan did not respond to an inquiry placed through the SPPD police spokesperson.

Since retiring, Kokotek has spent a lot of time in his son-in-law's Italian restaurant, helping with carpentry. He hasn't posted on LEOaffairs.com since he left the police force. He's not sure if he will. But he maintains his pictures have no racist or sexist undertones.

"I don't believe I'm a racist cop at all," he says. "I was trying to use satire to lampoon issues on the St. Pete Police Department. If I'm putting up a picture of someone acting like a witch, she's probably acting like a witch." (That's a reference to an image of Major Bevan as the Wizard of Oz villain.)

A couple of fellow retired SPPD officers agree.

"I don't think I'd paint Ken as discriminatory," says retired Sgt. Gary Robbins, who is white and attended the police academy with Kokotek. "Even in the academy, Kokotek was drawing pictures of all of us. This isn't something new."

Adds Tony Rolon, a retired Hispanic officer: "We used to joke a lot [at the department]. These were psychological ways for us to deal with high-stress situations. We laughed at ourselves. That's what kept our sanity."

LEOaffairs co-founder Jim Preston, a former Tampa Police Department Internal Affairs investigator, says police officers need an outlet to express their criticisms without fear of reprisals.

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