Robert Simeone, a first-time candidate for office chasing the state House District 85 seat, is quick to tout his 10-year experience as a Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy.
He’s also proudly advertising the fact he’s been endorsed by multiple women’s organizations, including the National Organization for Women.
But while he was a deputy, Simeone was twice accused of harassing waitresses — one called him a “stalker” — and was suspended for two weeks for a late-night encounter with a third woman.
In an election season where allegations of sexual harassment have dominated headlines, Simeone, who has been married for 19 years, acknowledged that some of the incidents don’t look good.
But he denied any improper behavior, saying the incidents were he-said, she-said encounters that came with being an aggressive police officer, and that in the end, they amounted just to policy violations.
“Ten years in law enforcement, we’re going to have issues,” he said. “At the end of the day, I take full responsibility for any of the actions that I was found at fault for. … Do I regret doing things? I don’t really regret anything.”
Simeone, a Navy veteran who left PBSO last year, now runs a drug treatment center. The Democrat is facing Republican Rick Roth for the seat that covers a wide swath of north and northwest Palm Beach County. The current seatholder, Pat Rooney, chose not to seek a fourth term.
Although he’s a newcomer to politics, Simeone says he’s been endorsed by state Sen. Joseph Abruzzo and state Rep. Dave Kerner, both Democrats, and advertises he’s being supported by the National Women’s Political Caucus of Florida and the National Organization for Women.
So far, Simeone’s opponent has not brought up Simeone’s PBSO record.
The Palm Beach Post read more than 500 pages of PBSO personnel and internal affairs records that shed light on his time in the department.
They revealed that the first accusation against Simeone was in 2010, when he was a deputy working the graveyard shift. During a dinner break at the Brass Ring pub in Royal Palm Beach, he struck up a conversation with a waitress about her daughter.
The waitress later wrote in a complaint that Simeone took her phone and used it to text himself photos of the woman in a bikini.
When she tried to get the phone back, “He persisted to tell me I could leave the baby at home with my boyfriend and he would fly me in a small plane to the Keys and we could just get lunch,” she wrote in her complaint. “After that point I started to get uncomfortable serving him.”
But PBSO investigators dropped the case when the woman didn’t show up for more interviews. Simeone was told not to return to the Brass Ring, records show.
Simeone, who earned his pilot’s license in 2009, said on Monday that the encounter “just didn’t happen,” pointing out that the woman didn’t pursue the complaint.
But a similar incident happened at a different bar just a year later.
In 2011, Simeone was accused of taking another waitress’ phone and texting himself from it. Then, after the woman’s shift ended, Simeone was accused of following her for a while on her way home.
The incident so rattled the woman that she told her manager, multiple coworkers and two deputies who stopped in for dinner another night, records show.
In an interview with PBSO investigators, the waitress called Simeone a “stalker.” She said he told her he was married but wanted to take her out on a date.
He also warned her, “You’re not going to tell on me for this are you? ‘Cause one time I had a girl tell on me and I got in trouble for that,” she recounted to investigators.
The waitress said Simeone offered to escort her to her car when her shift ended at about 2 a.m. She said she declined, and she and a coworker “snuck out” to avoid the deputy, the coworker said. As she headed west on Southern Boulevard, she saw Simeone following behind her in a patrol car.
When investigators confronted Simeone, he admitted entering his number into her phone and texting her, but said it wasn’t “explicit” — “We were just kind of flirting with each other.”
He denied following her, however. He said he waited 20 minutes in the Bru’s Room parking lot to make sure she got to her car safely, then headed the opposite direction on Southern, to pursue a speeding black driver.
But PBSO’s GPS data backed up the woman’s claim. It showed him heading west, and also that he had scanned her license plate while doing it.
Sheriff Ric Bradshaw suspended Simeone for 16 hours without pay for inappropriate conduct and for looking her up in the computer.
Simeone flatly denied that he did anything inappropriate with the woman.
“I vehemently denied following her,” he said Monday. “She said it happened, I said it didn’t. … As far as her quote, people can say anything they want to say.”
He said a fellow deputy was with him during the encounter and backed up his account. Although the deputy said the woman asked Simeone to put his number in her phone, he tried to distance himself from the incident when interviewed by investigators.
A third incident with a woman in 2013 later ended with Simeone being suspended without pay for two weeks.
While on patrol, he asked his supervisor for permission to take a dinner break around midnight, again at the Brass Ring. But instead of going there, he went to a Dunkin Donuts and met a woman in the parking lot.
He claimed he was checking out a suspicious car nearby, but he never told dispatchers. He then followed the woman into her gated community, according to sheriff’s records.
Both he and the woman told investigators they were just talking. He said he had met the woman, who was also married, at an accident scene, and she relied on him from time to time for personal advice.
Investigators found he had also looked her up in PBSO’s computer system, pulling up her driver license photo, Social Security card, green card, Venezuelan driver’s license and even a copy of her residential lease.
In the end, PBSO determined he lied to his supervisor about what he was doing that night and for misusing the computer system.
Simeone again said he didn’t have any inappropriate conduct with the woman.
“I was found at fault for violating internal policy, and I definitely regret doing certain things” like running her license plate, he said.
In 2015, after believing he’d never become a PBSO helicopter pilot, Simeone says he “took a leap of faith” and opened a drug treatment center.
He said it allows him to serve the public, as he did as an officer.
“At the end of the day, I’m a guy who helps everybody,” he said.
Staff writer Sarah Peters contributed to this story.