PROFILE: Deputy David Scozzafava

June 9, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

BY T MICHELE WALKER – If you find yourself in town and you see a new face in a Lee County Sheriff’s Office vehicle, make sure to give it a big Boca wave. Chances are it’s our new Deputy Sheriff, David Scozzafava. 

Here for just over three weeks, Deputy Sheriff David is excited to be here at Boca Grande. 

“I’ve been with the department for 17 years, and during that time I’ve applied for this position about three times,” he said. “It just never worked out as far as timing, but this time it worked. It’s always been a place that I’ve wanted to come and work; just to enjoy the area and serve the community.”  

Behind every great man is a partner, and David is no exception. David’s wife, Sarah, has an impressive career, currently working as the Director of Quality Management/Child Protection Team, Children’s Advocacy Center of Southwest Florida. Sarah is just as excited as David to be a member of the Boca Grande community. 

“We have always enjoyed a slower pace of life,” Sarah explained. “It’s probably a part of both of our Alabama roots, but in addition, Boca is enriched with history, particularly fishing history, and we love that part. We are avid outdoors people: We always enjoying a venture to the beach with our two pups, or hiking or boating. And we love the water – scuba diving and kayaking.”

Everything in David’s training and background has made him perfectly suited for service in Boca Grande, particularly his training and position as a member of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office Underwater Operations Team.

“Oh, I’m in my element,” said David. “For the last eight years I’ve been on the Underwater Operations Unit for the Sheriff’s office. Basically we investigate anything underwater, as far as crime scenes or body recoveries, vehicle recoveries, a search for evidence … anything of that nature. When they’re looking for more specific items, they call us out and we go in to find it.”

It’s been a career filled with challenging assignments and career titles, from detective in the Special Victims Unit, detective in the Sexual Offender/Predator Unit and deputy sheriff first class in the Civil/Domestic Violence Unit.  

“I’ve seen some interesting things,” David admitted. “Throughout my career I’ve been in positions where I’ve been busy and active. It’s not that I’m looking for anything slower paced, because I’m not a slow-paced person, but being in Boca Grande is a good change from the other things that I’ve dealt with throughout my career.” 

Starting out with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office in 2004, David was originally assigned as a road patrol deputy and field training officer. “From there I was a detective in our Major Crimes Division where I served approximately six years,” he said.

One cannot interview a police officer and not ask why they made the choice to serve. For David, the answer hits close to home. 

“My family has always been in the business of police, fire, military service or something in the nature of service to the community. When I went into the Air Force I really wanted to do law enforcement or some kind of EMS paramedic work. I tested very high on electronics and mechanics, and they tried to get me into a mechanical field. That’s not what I want to do.”

A talent for mechanics wasn’t news to David’s mother, who noticed David’s gifts early on. 

“I do like tinkering with things. My mother said when I was growing up that I liked to destroy things, then put them back together to see how they worked. But overall, I just never had a passion for that type of field. When I went into the Air Force I went into security forces, which primarily lead me to security duties overseas. When I came back stateside I focused more on the law enforcement aspect, in the D.C. area and the Pentagon, where I was stationed for five years.”

Variety is the spice of life for David. “Personally, I like change about every five to seven years. With the sheriff’s office there are so many different opportunities to work in different divisions. It just opens up a world of opportunities, and you never get tired of it because you’re learning completely new skills. That’s why in coming to a place like Boca Grande, I’ve got what I consider a decent background in investigation and the court process and so forth, so I feel like I’m a good all-around fit to serve the island.”

David was born and raised in Silver Hill, Alabama, a one-street, one-light town with a population of approximately 600 when David was growing up. He has no remnants of the Alabama accent, until he says the word “tried’’ where one can hear a slight southern drawl. “I tried to lose it,” he laughed. “It does come out, especially when I talk to a relative or someone back home. I was in Alabama from birth to age 22, when I went into the military and served nine years in the Air Force.”

As with anyone in the line of service, David has seen a lot throughout his years. According to his wife, “He is loyal, genuine, hard-working and one of the best people you will encounter in this life. David has the most thoughtful spirit you will find, or that I have found, and I’ve encountered many in my life. He puts others first, which makes his professional choice obvious. But in addition to his genuine thoughtfulness, is his humor. Boy, he can make me laugh. He’s quick on his feet and replies with humor to many situations. I sometimes find myself ready for an all-out serious conversation, and then his comment sparks a laugh, and … well, there I am realizing there is no point in taking yourself too seriously.”

After the Service, David found himself in Florida. 

“I originally moved to the central Fort Myers area. Most recently, my wife and I had a house in Buckingham and a little bit of acreage. We had to sell that in order for me to take this position. Now we’re living just off the island and my wife still commutes.”

It’s been a fast transition for the Scozzafava family. “I’m just trying to learn about the people on the island. I’m not a person who likes to sit in their vehicle. I like to get out and interact, so I’ve been parking in different areas and getting out and walking into the businesses. I interact and try to meet business owners, just to let them know that I’m the new person here and if they need anything, feel free to reach out.” 

For David it is all about service to the community. One specific case that sticks out for him involves his underwater training. 

“There’s one case that sticks out in my mind the most, and is one of my career highlights as far as bringing closure to a case, and to a family. We had an unrelated dive callout looking for a missing person and we were looking for a vehicle in the area of the Lee County Civic Center. There was a big community search for this person and a local fishing captain had gone to the Civic Center and he rigged up a magnet on a fishing line. He was just casting it out on one of the Civic Center ponds, reeling it in, and he got a hit on something metal. So we got called out, believing it was the vehicle we were looking for. It was a very specific model, newer, and we dove in. It was obviously not the vehicle we were looking for, but it was related to a vehicle we were looking for about three years earlier in a different area of the river. I reached out to the detective on the missing person case. This is when the vehicle was still underwater, when I had reached out to the detective. Because the waters we were diving in were just black, you could not see anything … so basically we were going by touch and feel. I could tell it was some kind of small vehicle, maybe a sports car. The detective pulled the case file and he said it was something like a 1986 Datsun Z80 or something like that. I could visualize that when we were touching the car. We ended up pulling the vehicle and it resulted in a closure of a cold case from many years earlier. Her name is Rita Sue Zul, and it was a cold case, missing person.”

It’s the satisfaction of closing a case as well as bringing peace to the family that means the most to David.  

“It’s hard to say it’s rewarding because you’re dealing with a person who’s deceased, but it does bring something special to the job that you’re able to bring closure and some peace to the family,” he said.

Underwater Investigation is something that David clearly enjoys, in spite of the multiple dangers. “Everyone thinks that we’re diving out in this pristine water, emerald greenish-blue, when in fact we’re diving in Lehigh Acres canals and retention ponds that have sediment in them. When you touch the bottom, it releases gasses. It’s just horrid.”

It’s not uncommon to experience zero visibility in the water, and with the local Florida wildlife, that can give the bravest diver cause for concern.  

“It’s not uncommon for alligators to be in the area,” he explained. “The most difficult dives are when we have to dive in an area where people feed the alligators. When they see us approach the water, they think someone’s coming to feed them. When we dive, we’ll see alligators coming from across the lake because they are used to people.   They don’t have that natural fear of something coming into the water.”

Despite the danger, the officers take extra care to make sure they protect the alligators. “We usually have someone on the surface that will watch them. We absolutely don’t want to shoot them or hurt them at all, but the protection of the officers who are underwater is a priority as well.”

When asked if he had experienced any dangerous confrontations, David proudly held up his fingers to show that they are all present and accounted for. “No, we’ve never had an alligator confrontation but strangely enough, turtles like to attack us. I don’t think it’s on purpose. A lot of times we have heavy vegetation where we’re trying to work, and occasionally you’ll feel something hit you on the chest … and a lot of times it’s turtles. We’re disturbing them and they’re just trying to get away. Then we have other issues, like snakes and water moccasins. They’re aggressive if you’re disturbing their nests. But we all look out for each other. We have a good team.”

David and Sarah do take time out from their busy working lives to enjoy the area. They both feel like they’ve landed in the perfect location. “We love swimming and boating: If it involves the water, I’m kind of a fan,” David said. “We own a boat, we own kayaks. I’m not the best fisherman in the world, but I enjoy trying. I’m looking forward to receiving some tips from the locals, the guides and the captains in the area and maybe becoming a little more proficient than what I am right now.”

In addition to his wife Sarah, David has two children from a previous marriage. 

“They are both adults, living in Tennessee, and they are actually living together. It’s pretty cool for them to be out on their own and together to help each other out. I am surprised that they get along, siblings butting heads, but they seem to help each other and get along. They enjoy that area, the mountains and hiking and everything in the Pigeon Forge, Tennessee area.”

From the beauty of the Gulf of Mexico, the fishing and boating, to shopping at places like Boca Bargains, the Scozzafava have landed in the perfect home for their family.

“I am David’s biggest fan, next to his mother,” said Sarah with pride. “She and David speak weekly and they both enjoy many of the same joys of life. Particularly, the thrill of the hunt and those great finds at estate sales and secondhand stores; and their ability to leave the judgment of others aside.”

As David said, “I’m very happy. Being in Boca Grande was something I knew that I wanted to do and I was lucky enough to be picked up out here. It seems like a good place. I love it.”