The couple was snuggling in the back seat, arms around each other and kissing as Bruno Mars crooned “Just the Way You Are” over the car stereo. The only thing spoiling the mood during that romantic summer Saturday ride: the set of handcuffs — police department-issued and involuntarily worn.
Because the lovers were in the back of a police cruiser, and they were on their way to jail.
But the two — Melbourne, Fla., residents Zachery Moellendick and Krista Leigh — weren’t about to let a shoplifting arrest ruin their fun, especially not with tunes like Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love” playing in the background.
Officer Doug McNeal captured the afternoon ride on his body camera, which was fixed beneath his car’s rearview mirror and trained on the back seat, filming the couple as they kissed, fondled each other and smoked a cigarette. Footage of that July day later became evidence against McNeal in an internal affairs investigation that led to a 20-day suspension from the Fort Pierce Police Department, about 50 miles north of Palm Beach, Fla.
The internal affairs report, which was released Friday and obtained by The Washington Post, details several department policies that McNeal is said to have violated, including allowing the use of tobacco in a police vehicle, improperly searching and detaining suspects — neither wore seat belts in the car, Leigh was cuffed from the front, and Moellendick, who was on crutches, wasn’t even cuffed — and “conduct unbecoming.”
The report also said McNeal violated the department’s body-camera rules and failed to inform his dispatchers of his whereabouts as he drove the suspects from the crime scene to the county jail, the jail to a hospital for medical evaluation, and then back to the jail.
The day began at a Walmart, the report says, where McNeal arrested Moellendick and Leigh on suspicion of shoplifting jewelry. Once the two suspects were in the back of the squad car, sans seat belts, they began their cuddling and kissing while McNeal drove them to jail.
When they arrived, McNeal pulled into the jail’s sally port and finished his paperwork in the driver’s seat. According to the report, Leigh then asked the officer whether she could stand outside and smoke a cigarette.
“No, just smoke in the car,” McNeal reportedly responded. “They won’t let you smoke in the sally port.”
They smoked the cigarette and resumed kissing. Then, the report says, their behavior became more intimate, a fact made clear by the couple’s “body posture and arm movements.”
At one point in the video, when the car is still idling outside the jail, a passing officer tells McNeal: “I think they’re making babies back there.”
During the internal affairs investigation, McNeal told a department detective that he saw the kissing and cuddling and “was fine with it.” However, he denied seeing any sexual activity, investigators said.
In the end, Moellendick pleaded guilty to petty theft and trespassing and was released from jail on Thursday, reported the TCPalm. Leigh pleaded no contest to petty theft, was sentenced to time served and released.
The internal affairs probe concluded by stating that McNeal’s conduct was “inconsistent with the standards expected” and warned of an additional suspension or termination should something similar happen again.
“Officer McNeal has accepted full responsibility for his actions and understands the seriousness of the policy violations,” the Fort Pierce police chief, Diane Hobley-Burney, said in a statement. “The conduct of this officer does not represent the values of this Department or the dedicated men and women who serve our community with honor every day.”