Update: CCSO arrests deputy for theft

Jail cell bars

The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) has arrested one of its own deputies for allegedly stealing money from a vehicle during a service call.

The incident occurred in the early morning hours of Friday, according to a CCSO press release. The sheriff’s office received a complaint from a citizen who said Ruslan Lipelis, 50, had taken money from a car during a call.

“This is rare for our agency, and I do want the citizens to know that this is, kind of, a gut punch for the entire agency,” Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter said at a Monday press conference.

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Hunter said that Lipelis was actively patrolling an area when he encountered two people trespassing on restricted property.

While investigating, he discovered one had an arrest warrant and called for a backup deputy. Sometime during this incident, the sheriff’s department says Lipelis stole around $3,800.

One of the victims filed the complaint, deputies brought the matter to Hunter and he contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).

At the press conference, Keith Wilmer, chief of investigations for FDLE, said Hunter contacted his department to ensure an independent and impartial investigation.

On the same day, Wilmer said the FDLE investigated and found a majority of the stolen money at Lipelis’ residence, obtained an arrest warrant and arrested him for grand theft.

“It doesn’t matter who gets the black eye, we all wear it. And this is a pretty significant black eye,” Hunter said.

Lipelis, who started with CCSO in September 2017, was put on leave, and the CCSO is conducting an internal investigation that will present findings after the criminal investigation is complete.

Hunter said Lipelis had no history of misconduct when he joined in 2017.

“The actions of one individual are not going to define this Columbia County Sheriff’s Office,” Hunter said. “I can tell you that because the men and women that work here work hard every day, all day to make sure our community is safe and that we do have the trust of the people.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with information from Monday’s press conference. 

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