TARPON SPRINGS — In the nearly four years since Tarpon Springs Police Officer Charles “Charlie K” Kondek was killed in the line of duty, the lives of his wife and six children have been filled with tears and turmoil.
In addition to dealing with the harsh realities associated with her husband’s death, including the sudden loss of his regular paycheck, Teresa Kondek and her family suffered through the agonizing trial of Officer Kondek’s killer earlier this year.
It was initially announced that the jury was recommending that Padilla be sentenced to death for the December 2014 fatal shooting of Kondek. Padilla, however, was sentenced to life in prison after the judge heard that only 10 of the 12 jurors had voted for death.
Florida law requires a unanimous jury recommendation before a death sentence can be imposed.
The Kondeks, however, finally have received some good news. The City Commission unanimously approved an ordinance supporting the payment of 100 percent death benefits to the spouses of officers killed in the line of duty. In Kondek’s case, the full benefits will be retroactively paid back to the date of his death.
“I just wanted to thank everyone for being here tonight, and to the commissioners, thank you for your part in making tonight possible,” Teresa Kondek said during the second reading of Ordinance 2018-22 on Sept. 4. “When I asked for this change, I didn’t ask for just my family. I asked for the department, and I didn’t ask for a penny more than my husband earned before he was killed serving the community.
“But I had no idea how extremely emotionally hard this was going to be.”
Kondek said her husband’s pension “was something Charlie worked so hard for.” He dedicated 23 years of his life as an officer, working overtime to earn the largest pension benefit he could for the family, his widow said.
The commission’s decision came two years after changes to the Florida Retirement System’s Survivor Benefits program increased death benefits from 50 percent to 100 percent for the surviving spouse of members killed in the line of duty on or after July 1, 2013.
In July 2017, the state extended the 100 percent death benefit to the surviving spouse of members killed in the line of duty on or after July 1, 2002. In both cases, no retroactive pay was given to the surviving spouses, according to details of a report sent to the city
While Teresa Kondek tirelessly worked with city and police officials at the local and state level for several years to receive her husband’s full pension, she admitted the process was frustrating at times, leading her to ask for outside help. She had been receiving the 50 percent benefit since her husband’s death.
Gov. Rick Scott stepped in after Kondek told him of her family’s problems since her husband’s line-of-duty death while attending a memorial service for fallen officers. Several other organizations sent letters to the city in support of her request for full pension payments, she said.
Despite the frustration, Kondek was quick to note the efforts paid off.
“This was new. No one in the city had ever gone through this before,” she said. “I’m grateful that it’s done, and I’m happy the entire department has that benefit now.”
Two law enforcement union officials, John Rivera, president of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, and George Lofton, president of the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association, thanked all the public officials who helped with the Kondek cause. The list includes not only Scott, buy Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, and the City Commission.
“This was a collaborative effort. This was us working together,” Rivera said, adding, “You will be a beacon of light for the other cities in the state of Florida.”
Lofton said, “The biggest thank-you I have to say is for Teresa, because her strength and her courage through this entire process, working for every single current member of the Tarpon Springs Police Department, and those going forward, can never be measured.”