A lover’s spat between two police sergeants that erupted in front of a Jupiter waterfront restaurant has resulted in two internal affairs investigations, a demotion in rank and a 30-day suspension within the Jupiter Police Department, according to documents obtained by The Palm Beach Post.
Amy Walling was reduced in rank from sergeant to officer and given a 30-day suspension without pay after an internal affairs investigation determined she bit a fellow officer and another person and struck another officer during an April 2016 fight with Jupiter police Sgt. Jason Vansteenburgh, according to the investigation. The two had been involved in a long-running romantic relationship.
At the time of the fight outside the U-Tiki Beach Restaurant, Vansteenburgh was engaged to another woman. Walling was off duty. Vansteenburgh was on duty.
Walling, who has not served the suspension, has been on paid administrative leave since June 28. Vansteenburgh has been on paid administrative leave since Nov. 14.
A second internal investigation is underway involving Walling and Vansteenburgh and should be complete in a couple of weeks, said Major Adam Hirsch.
“This is a very severe disciplinary action. It effects (Walling’s) rank and pay,” Jupiter Police Chief Frank Kitzerow said.
The Jupiter police department does not have a policy that prohibits romantic relationships between police officers in the department, said Kitzerow.
“We have husbands and wives working in the department. We are not concerned about their relationship. We are concerned about their performance as police officers,” Kitzerow said.
Walling and Vansteenburgh could not immediately be reached for comment.
Walling was a major and the lead investigator in a hate crime three years ago that resulted in the arrest of three men in the bludgeoning death of 18-year-old Onesimo Marcelino Lopez-Ramos,. Three men were charged with first-degree murder.
After those arrests, she requested a demotion to sergeant, citing pressure from the position, according to the report.
A Facebook message that includes dates and times Walling and Vansteenburgh allegedly engaged in sexual activity, details of their encounters and information about their relationship is included in the investigation. The Facebook message was sent the day of the incident by Walling to Vansteenburgh’s fiancee, Kathleen Harwood, investigators said.
During the fight on April 17 Walling bit Jupiter officer Elizabeth Raleigh and her friend, Randy Ready, in the face. Walling had been told to leave the waterfront restaurant that evening, but she returned about 11 p.m. after she argued with Vansteenburgh, according to internal affairs.
During a June 23 disciplinary hearing, Walling’s attorney, Elizabeth Parker, said the investigation was biased against Walling. Parker said Vansteenburgh had a relationship with Walling during a time when he also had a fiancee.
Parker said the fight in the parking lot created a situation where “Walling was having difficulty breathing and therefore had a legal right under Florida law to defend herself,” according to the report.
Involved since 2012
Walling and Vansteenburgh met in 1999 when they were both sergeants in Jupiter. Walling previously supervised Vansteenburgh when she was a major in criminal investigations and he was a detective assigned to her division. Their personal relationship started in 2012, according to the report.
The April incident started when Walling went to Vansteenburgh’s home three times to return personal property. Vansteenburgh and his fiancee, Kathleen Harwood, did not answer the door, according to the report.
Vansteenburgh worked a security police detail that day starting at 5 p.m. at U-Tiki, which is on the Loxahatchee River in the town’s Inlet Village. Walling, who was off-duty, arrived at the restaurant about 7:30 p.m. and sat at a table on the beach with two friends. The friends left, leaving Walling alone.
Vansteenburgh and Harwood were seated together in the restaurant at about 10 p.m. Walling started an argument and then took out her cellphone.
Vansteenburgh told investigators that he had “had enough, as he did not know what she was going to start videotaping, showing something on her phone that could have been anything, I don’t know.”
Vansteenburgh informed restaurant management. Walling, who was escorted out of the restaurant, later told Jupiter police Harwood caused the disturbance.
Walling drove out of the parking lot onto A1A, but returned about an hour later. The dispute escalated. Off-duty officer Elizabeth Raleigh and her friend, Randy Ready, also were in the parking lot.
Walling and Vansteenburgh began to argue because Walling had parked her vehicle so close to Vansteenburgh’s that he could not open the door. Raleigh and Ready attempted to separate them. Walling bit Raleigh on the left cheek and Ready on the chin. Ready later said he did not remember the bite, according to the report.
“Officer Raleigh pulled Sergeant Walling down to the ground and was holding onto her. Walling was acting hysterical and Officer Raleigh would not let her go as she was afraid that Sergeant Walling would drive away,” according to the internal affairs report.
Rebecca Schwartz, a Chattanooga, Tenn., police officer who was in the parking lot while in Jupiter on vacation, told Jupiter investigators she “did not see Walling hit Sergeant Vansteenburgh, however she did see her grab his upper body. Schwartz … did not see Walling cause injury to officer Raleigh,” according to the report.
Walling was driven to her home after the incident, according to the report.
Vansteenburgh, Raleigh, and Ready declined to pursue criminal charges for battery. The Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office Public Corruption Unit determined that no further criminal investigation was required, according to the report.
Police Chief Frank Kitzerow did not recommend firing Walling, noting she had no prior disciplinary actions. He recommended the demotion, 30-day suspension without pay and two-year probation when Walling returns to duty.
Walling “accepted full responsibility for her actions and apologized for the damage she has caused to the department and herself,” Kitzerow wrote in a Oct. 11 memo to Town Manager Andy Lukasik, who backed the chief’s recommendation on Nov. 9.
Staff Writer Lawrence Mower contributed to this report.
Staff Writer Lawrence Mower contributed to this report.