Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy Robert Lentino, 26, who has been with the agency three years, was relieved of duty–with pay–just before noon today pending an investigation of an allegation of dating violence against his 21-year-old girlfriend.
The alleged victim, who had been fearful to come forward because of his job–she says she was convinced he’d be protected–claims he has been especially violent toward her since May, threatening to “beat the fuck out of you” and “literally want to blow your brains out,” according to screenshots of texts she took, allegedly called her racially offensive words, and offered her money to delete the texts and not speak of the exchanges to save his job.
The woman, a 21-year-old resident of Daytona Beach, was first in contact with Flagler sheriff’s authorities on Sunday after posting an account on Facebook in which she claimed she would “not stay quiet about this any longer,” describing “how severe and life threatening this relationship was.” But it was not until last night that, according to her, sheriff’s authorities in Flagler directed her to contact the Daytona Beach Police Department and report the alleged violence there, since the incidents took place in Daytona Beach. Daytona police were at the victim’s residence for several hours overnight, and a report was filed.
“I can confirm at this time that we do have an active and ongoing investigation into a domestic violence situation which was reported to us last night,” Messod Bendayan, the spokesperson for the Daytona Beach Police Department, said in an email. That case “does involve a deputy with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office. I can also confirm that no arrest has been made at this time. We are not releasing any other details at this moment, including any reports, since this case is active and ongoing. We’re also not identifying any of the people involved at this time.”
Lentino, a resident of Palm Coast’s B Section, where he lives with his parents, was on duty on Monday and Tuesday, putting in a day shift as normal even as a number of personnel within the Sheriff’s Office, who had become aware of the allegations and seen some of the Facebook postings, questioned why he had not yet been relieved of duty. He was on his regular days off on Wednesday and Thursday.
When Mark Strobridge, the sheriff’s Chief of Staff, was contacted Wednesday evening, he told FlaglerLive he was not aware of the situation, but said that didn’t mean that others in the organization had not been made aware. The alleged victim told FlaglerLive she had spoke with a sergeant last Sunday. “They’ve known about this since Sunday,” she said.
Early this afternoon, Strobridge said Lentino had been relieved. A set of “administrative suspension” orders issued by the agency at 11:05 a.m. today require him to remain at his home weekdays between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., available for contact from sheriff’s personnel, absent permission to leave the house. He is otherwise to conduct himself as a private citizen, disallowed from performing any official sheriff’s duties, or wear his uniform. His patrol vehicle was turned into the Sheriff’s Office, as were his weapons and all other items issued by the agency, including his badge. He is not allowed on sheriff’s property. He is paid $40,000 a year.
The order does not refer to the alleged victim, or to a no-contact order with her, which may only be issued by a court. But the case has not gotten that far, leaving the woman “terrified”–in her words–about her safety. The texts she screen-shot, if authenticated, include the sort of threats that have frequently led to the arrest in Flagler County of those making them, and to second-degree felony charges. Lentino’s phone, however, appears not to have been seized for analysis, and the woman said that once she started taking screenshots, and he became aware of it, he switched to sending her SnapChat messages, which disappear after a set period of time.
In an interview, the woman said she had become friends with Lentino in May 2020, and started dating him that July. She says “he was always very aggressive and mildly violent, like in the sense of slapping me, grabbing me, two months in, but it didn’t start getting really violent until May of this year.” The woman spoke of getting black eyes, bruises on her body, and in the last few days, a cut on her leg that bloodied the bedsheets in her room–evidence turned over to Daytona police overnight. “Most of the time it was black eyes, getting punched in the face, he’s threatened to kill me on multiple occasions,” she said. She alleged he also threatened to tase her.
“I wanted to get out of the relationship but I didn’t know how, because I was worried he was going to hurt me,” she said. She said she had never reported the issues in the past, but had spoken of them to co-workers and friends. She feared making an official report “because he was a cop and he always told me I’d never get taken care of if I reported anything because he has the power, and I believed it, because I didn’t believe the Sheriff’s Office would take anything seriously until last night.” The agency under Sheriff Staly has made countering domestic violence a priority.
Lentino grew up locally, has family members in law enforcement, and had worked at Publix before landing the job at the Sheriff’s Office. “I chose Flagler County because I grew up here, I lived here for like 20 years, kind of know the area pretty well, so kind of figured why not represent the hometown,” he said in a brief video profile by the agency in 2018. Asked what advice he might provide, he said: ” All your dreams, I mean if that’s something that you really want to do, it doesn’t matter how young you are, you know, I’m a younger guy. So I run into situations where it’s kind of like, you roll up and it’s like, ‘You’re a cop,’ and I’m just like, ‘Yeah, I am.’ So I’m a little bit younger, I understand that, but I feel like I bring something different to the table, trying to put everyone else in a better mood. That’s kind of what I try to strive for every day.”
The woman said she was considering leaving the state–she is originally from South Carolina–though she likes her job and has friends locally. “I do not feel safe here, he knows pretty much anywhere I can go,” she said. “There’s really nowhere for me to hide except friends he doesn’t know about.” She said she was convinced he would retaliate.
If an alleged crime took place in a neighboring county, local police in that county has jurisdiction to investigate, not the sheriff’s office from a neighboring county. If charges result from an investigation, an individual in his home county would be picked up by the agency with jurisdiction there–in this case, the Sheriff’s Office, if it came to that–but the individual would then have to be extradited to the county where the charges originate, and where all subsequent court proceedings would follow.