Deputy Robert Craig says he was fired in part because he's gay

5:04 PM, Oct 2, 2013   |    comments
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Deputy Robert Craig says he was fired from the Manatee County Sheriff's Office because of his sexual orientation.
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Bradenton, FL -- Robert Craig says he can't help but think on some level he was fired from the Manatee County Sheriff's Office in August because he's gay.

Craig, who worked for the MCSO for six years before he was fired, said most of the people he worked with did not have a problem with his sexual orientation. But Craig says he and others have heard homophobic comments made at the MCSO.

"It's the higher up administration that's had a history of treating gay people differently," Craig told 10 News on Wednesday.

"You have a sheriff who has been in the department for years, for years. He's an older white man with outdated ways of thinking. It's time for change."

Officially, Craig was let go for conduct unbecoming of a deputy...  conduct revealed during an undercover steroid investigation that resulted in three other deputies also losing their jobs.

READ: Manatee Sheriff's Office Internal Affairs report (PDF)

But while he purchased some steroids from an undercover informant now identified as Jack Choate, Craig says he never knew what he was buying was illegal. He says he was only told they were testosterone boosters and when he found out they might be steroids he canceled the order before any money changed hands.

Craig now admits he really had no interest in any supplements, only in Choate.

"The truth is -- which is embarrassing -- I really had no interest in supplements of any kind. I was interested in getting Jack back to my house because I thought he was interested also (in sex)," Criag told 10 News on Wednesday.

Craig says he knew Choate from his time when he worked at the MCSO.  Craig says the two had been exchanging some sexually suggestive text messages and that Choate even sent him some naked pictures.  Criag doesn't believe he should lose his job for that.

"I should not be fired, I realized this stuff was not legitimate, I said, 'No thank you.' That is what an officer should do. I should not lose my job over it."

But the sheriff disagrees and takes issue with the idea Craig's sexual orientation had anything to do with his firing. The MCSO released the following statement on Wednesday:

"The Manatee County Sheriff's Office does not tolerate harassment or discrimination of its employees. Futhermore, The Sheriff's Office does not discriminate based on race, gender or sexuality. The Sheriff's Office takes great pride in being a diverse agency. Former deputy Robert Craig was negotiating for the purchase of illegal steroids while on duty and in doing so, violated MSO's General Orders of Conduct Unbecoming a Deputy."

Craig will try and get his job back at a hearing next week and his attorney is optimistic they'll prevail.

"I don't think it's justified. I don't think it's fair. I don't think this is even a close issue, to be honest," attorney Peter Lombardo said.

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