Wednesday, January 17, 2018
News Roundup

Cuba activist sues Tampa for dropped DUI charge

TAMPA — At the age of 69, activist Al Fox was arrested and charged last year with DUI, strip-searched twice and jailed for 12 hours. His car was impounded and his mug shot posted online.

But Fox blew a 0.00 on alcohol breath tests — twice. His urine test came back clean, too.

Now he's suing the city of Tampa and the two officers who arrested him — including the former sergeant since fired in a separate DUI arrest that's at the center of an explosive legal scandal.

Fox's lawsuit alleges the police department has yearly "quotas" for how many DUI arrests officers are supposed to make, and that the physical roadside sobriety tests are inappropriate for people older than 65.

"No one is more supportive of law enforcement than I am," he said Wednesday. But "I really believe that in my case they abused their authority."

The city attorney declined to comment on pending litigation. Said Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy: "We brought in outside experts to audit our DUI investigations. They gave us a clean bill of health and some constructive pointers on how to improve. All of those have been implemented."

Fox, a former Washington, D.C., lobbyist and one-time congressional candidate who founded the nonprofit Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation, is a familiar face in the ongoing debate on this country's relationship with Cuba. He says Tampa police Officer Dean Uno recognized him that night as "that Cuba guy."

"I took it to mean, 'You're that Castro-loving commie, aren't you?' " Fox said last year.

The night of Feb. 21, 2013, Fox was coming home from playing poker at St. Petersburg's Derby Lane. He said he purchased no alcohol that night but had "one or two sips" at a beer-tasting promotion.

Police reports said that when he was pulled over for speeding on N Dale Mabry Highway near W Hillsborough Avenue, his eyes were glassy, his breath smelled of alcohol and his speech was slurred. Fox denied this. He was given field sobriety tests that included standing on one leg for 30 seconds and executing a walk-and-turn. He told the officers he has difficulty walking. The suit contends such physical tests are "invalid for individuals over the age of 65."

Fox went to jail, but prosecutors declined to pursue the charge given the lack of evidence.

The suit accuses the city of a pattern of being "willfully blind" to officers making DUI arrests without probable cause and violating constitutional rights.

A month before he pulled Fox over, DUI Sgt. Ray Fernandez was involved in the arrest of Tampa lawyer C. Philip Campbell after Campbell left a downtown steakhouse. The sergeant had been tipped off by a close friend who worked at Adams & Diaco, the law firm Campbell was battling in court at the time.

Prosecutors who investigated later called the arrest a set-up involving a female paralegal from the firm and dropped the DUI charge. Fernandez was fired. An investigation by the FBI is ongoing, and the Florida Bar is pursuing discipline against three Adams & Diaco lawyers.

"Sgt. Fernandez lost his impartiality and professionalism in dealing with this case," police Chief Jane Castor said at his termination. At least a dozen DUI cases in which he was a witness were dropped.

In January, Castor announced changes to how the department handles DUIs, among them more thorough individual investigations rather than relying on language often seen in DUI reports, including "slurred speech," "odor of alcohol" and "glassy eyes."

A review team did not, however, find evidence of "inappropriate targeted or selective enforcement" and said there were no "red flags that would suggest any other substantial failure in the practices of TPD."

Asked what he hoped to get out of the lawsuit, Fox said, "my mother and father's good name restored."

"It's egregious," he said.

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