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Chief: Officer hugged, taunted coworker despite COVID fears

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LONGWOOD, Fla. (AP) — A central Florida police officer has been fired following a coworker's complaint that he mocked her concerns about the coronavirus, hugged her against her wishes and misled investigators who probed the allegations against him, according to records.

An internal investigation by the Longwood Police Department found Cpl. David Hernandez was "not fully forthcoming and not truthful" when questioned about the interaction in July with the woman, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

The co-worker "told you not to touch her and physically backed away from you and crossed her arms," police Chief David Dowda wrote in his review of the case, which the newspaper obtained through a public records request.

"This was more than sufficient indication for you to know to stop trying to embrace her; however you ignored her comments and moments later embraced her," the chief wrote.

The woman said she made it clear that she feared contracting COVID-19. Hernandez ignored her and followed her into her work space, the report said.

There he kept "taunting her with comments about her being afraid of contracting COVID-19," while sitting at her desk and "touching items on her desk," the report said.

Hernandez, an officer with the department since 2005, only left when the woman went to a supervisor, the report said. The woman said she cut her finger and hurt her back while pushing Hernandez away, the report said.

Two witnesses corroborated the allegations against Hernandez. He denied hugging her, the report said.

The chief determined that Hernandez violated agency policies on safety practices, employee harassment and conduct, the Sentinel reported.

Dowda also said Hernandez's conduct met the "elements of the crime of battery." But the woman told investigators she did not want to pursue a criminal investigation.

The termination is still subject to an upcoming arbitration proceeding, in which the officer could try to get his job back. The union officer who represented Hernandez in the internal investigation, Gary Conroy, did not immediately return requests for comment.

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