New details emerge from SRO investigation

Published 12:05 am Saturday, March 21, 2015

New documents obtained through a public information request provide details on an incident that led to an Elizabethton police officer’s resignation, including a report that indicates a female student was struck on the backside with an unknown object.

On March 16, former police officer Michael Sproviero resigned from his position as a School Resource Officer with the Elizabethton Police Department rather than be fired by the agency, Police Chief Greg Workman said.

In a memorandum from Workman to City Manager Jerome Kitchens, the police chief provides a summary of what the investigation revealed. The incident reported by the female student occurred in the gym at T. A. Dugger Junior High School and was captured on video, Workman said.

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The video shows Sproviero throwing a dodge ball at a girl during class, after which the two exchanged words, Workman said.

A few minutes later, that girl and another female student bent over in front of Sproviero to pick up another ball, Workman said. “The initial female that had the dodge ball thrown at her by Cpl. Sproviero raises back up and is struck on the backside below the waist by an unknown object,” Workman said in the memo. “The change in demeanor is obvious. She turns in the direction of Cpl. Sproviero and according to her, words are exchanged. She asked ‘why did you do that’ and the response was ‘it was too big to miss.’”

The female student then walked away and reported the incident to her teacher.

As part of the investigation, EPD Capt. Joy Shoun interviewed the girl and said her statement matched the video evidence.

Sproviero was also interviewed and he said he couldn’t recall if he struck the female student with anything. After Sproviero was allowed to watch the video footage, he claimed he did not touch her with anything, Workman said.

“The video clearly shows something happened, and Cpl. Sproviero has no explanation for her change in behavior,” Workman said. “Even without being able to identify the object that struck the female student, the video clearly shows something inappropriate occurred.”

During the investigation, Sproviero admitted he said something like “it was too big to miss,” which Workman described as “troubling in itself.”

“Officers are expected to conduct themselves in a professional manner at all times to include their selection of words,” he said. “For an officer to say this to a juvenile female while in uniform is an embarrassment to this department.”

As part of the investigation, Shoun also discussed concerns with Sproviero’s interaction with students at the school, allowing them access to his handcuffs and police baton. In response, Sproviero said he tried to maintain good relationships with the children, but understood he may have become complacent in his duties and allowed the students to get too friendly with him.

“Cpl. Sproviero stated that he had never been corrected or addressed by faculty about his actions, and wished someone had told him that it was in question so he could fix the behaviors,” Shoun said. “I commented that some of the behaviors in question were of a nature that he, as a veteran officer and previous SRO, should have an understanding to know that it is not appropriate without being told.”

The investigation was completed on March 13 and Sproviero was allowed to see the findings. After reviewing the file, Sproviero gave Shoun a written statement contesting the findings and claiming the video showed his version of events was correct.

“He stated that he did not strike the juvenile with his hand or radio,” Shoun said.

Once the investigation was completed, EPD Maj. Shannon Peters reviewed the findings and recommended Sproviero be fired. In his memo to Workman giving his recommendation, Peters said he had no reason to doubt the female student’s statement, which he felt was supported by the video evidence.

In his report, Peters called the incident when the juvenile turns to Sproviero and states “why did you do that for” and his response –  “it’s too big to miss” – “very disturbing.”  “I feel this incident is a direct violation of (general orders) and whether it be horseplay or not, I do not feel it to be appropriate conduct of an officer,” he added.

Peters expressed concerns about Sproviero allowing students to play with his handcuffs and taking his police baton from him, saying, “Cpl. Sproviero has been an officer for over 20 years and has the knowledge of the dangers of anyone accessing issued equipment. At no time should children or staff be allowed or be comfortable enough to remove items from an officer’s belt or uniform.”