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Fox 13 anchor won't appear on camera this week following Friday arrest

21

January

Russellrhodes_3 It may seem an obvious conclusion given the injuries to his face, but officials at WTVT-Ch. 13 say morning anchor Russell Rhodes will not appear on air this week, as controversy about his arrest Friday Jan. 16 and the injuries he sustained lingers.

Officials at WTVT and station owner Fox TV declined to comment beyond confirming he would not be on air. Rhodes did not return telephone calls from the Times seeking comment on news that internal affairs investigators at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office are reviewing the circumstances of his arrest.

Police spokesman J.D. Callaway said such an action did not indicate that the Sheriff's Office had concluded there were problems with the arrest, but that the sheriff was being careful in handling a high-profile case.

Callaway said the sheriff's office is still waiting for the results of Rhodes' blood test, revealing whether the anchor was intoxicated on Friday, when an off-duty police officer working security at the Channelside entertainment complex stopped Rhodes, eventually forced him to the ground and arrested him.

According to a previous Times report, the deputy stopped a BMW that he said was driving erratically and the driver, Rhodes, got out, reportedly with his belt undone and his pants unbuttoned, though they were still up. Rhodes appeared to be intoxicated, Callaway said.

The Times story also said the deputy maintained Rhodes tried to walk away from him twice after being ordered to stay put and surrender his car keys. Rhodes didn't identify himself or try to use his name to get out of the situation, Callaway said. When Rhodes tried to run out of the garage, the deputy grabbed him, Callaway said.

WTVT has seen staffers arrested in controversial circumstances before. In May 2008, then-general manager Bob Linger was arrested in a Tampa adult video store on charges of exposure of a sexual organ and lewd behavior. Police said Linger was among six men who formed a circle around undercover officers and began masturbating; Linger eventually was moved to a different job in the company after entering a misdemeanor diversion program to resolve the charges.

Such controversial arrests bring a host of issues for employer and employee. Often, the first public accounting of the incident leading to arrest comes from the police; even if the employee wants to offer an alternate account, lawyers or the employer may insist on silence.

Tampa lawyer Steve Romine, who represented Linger last year, said TV stations often wait until legal issues are resolved before deciding on an employee's ultimate fate after such arrests.

"The media is often the biggest advocate of making sure things are done fairly," said Romine, who has represented other bay area TV personalities accused of crimes. The attorney also said the details of an on-air staffer's contract -- which may contain a clause allowing the station to fire him or her for behavior that damages the station's image -- may also guide the employer's response.

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[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:54pm]

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