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Florida police chief out over investigation involving lieutenant's son

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Cop's son accused of punching man
  • City manager accelerates police chief's retirement over concerns about public trust
  • Concerns involve investigation into role of police lieutenant's son in homeless beating case
  • Some questioned whether Brian Collison got preferential treatment
  • Collison surrendered Monday on arrest warrant; formal charges are under consideration

(CNN) -- The police chief in Sanford, Florida, was ousted Monday following questions about how investigators handled accusations that a police lieutenant's son punched a homeless man in December.

City Manager Tom George said that he had moved up Chief Brian Tooley's planned retirement date to Monday. Tooley had been scheduled to continue leading the department until January 31.

"The public's trust and confidence in the City of Sanford's Police Department has been brought into question most recently as the result of incidents which occurred in early December that included an attack on a Sanford resident and several fights involving the son of a Sanford police officer," George said in a statement.

The news came just hours after Justin Collison, 21, surrendered to authorities on an arrest warrant issued December 28. Collison, a police lieutenant's son, was wanted in connection with an incident caught on video December 4. He has not been formally charged.

A video aired by CNN affiliate WFTV shows one man punching another man in the back of the head. The victim was described by witnesses as a homeless man who was trying to break up an unrelated fight outside a bar.

The tape then shows the attacker walking a short distance and pushing a second man, throwing him to the ground as others shout for "Justin" to stop. The man who was punched in the back of the head appeared to be unconscious for several minutes.

Police took statements from witnesses and the victim after the fight, but did not arrest Collison.

The way police handed the case led some in the community to question whether Collison received preferential treatment from police because of his father's position.

At the time, Tooley said Collison had not been treated preferentially, but acknowledged that the investigation could have been better handled. Among other things, Tooley said he and the shift captain should have been notified to make sure all procedures were closely followed.

In a statement, George did not accuse Tooley of any wrongdoing in the incident, but said public confidence in the police department is too important to squander.

"The City is prepared to immediately address and resolve any and all issues in order to accomplish professional law enforcement activities in a high quality manner and always maintain the trust and confidence of the citizens of the City," he said in the statement.

The statement indicated that Tooley "fully endorses" George's decision.

Seminole County Deputy Sheriff Steve Harriet, a former Sanford police chief, will assume day-to-day leadership of the department pending the hiring of a permanent replacement, George said.

The sheriff's office will work with city officials to "identify issues and problems that exist within the City's Police Department as well as the solutions and remedies that require implementation," George said in the statement.

Meanwhile, the investigation into the December 4 incident continues.

Bond for Collison was set at $4,000, according to Jennifer Littrell, a booking intake clerk at the Seminole County Jail.

A decision on formal charges is pending further investigation by Sanford police and the Florida state attorney's office. Last week, a spokeswoman for the state attorney's office said such investigations can take up to three months.

CNN's Vivian Kuo contributed to this report.