TAMPA — Not long ago, after seeing what she saw, Sara asked her father a question.
"Is police bad?"
"No," her father said. "Police are good.
"Yes," he continued, "they took Daddy away.
"No," he told her, "he did not make a bad choice.
"They thought he did."
As Tallie Gainer III said this month, it's hard to explain false arrest to a 3-year-old.
Now he will try to explain it to a judge.
Gainer filed suit Tuesday against the Pasco Sheriff's Office, seeking damages for wrongful arrest. The story of his ordeal was first reported last year in the St. Petersburg Times. Here's a summary.
Gainer is a college-educated entrepreneur and youth counselor who lives in Jackson Heights. He had dreams of buying a local laundry and setting up a mortgage office and barbershop there. Until 2006, when he was 28 years old, he had never been arrested.
On Aug. 1 of that year, he was at Denny's with his four young children when he left his wallet on the counter.
Nine days later in Port Richey, a man with Gainer's driver's license walked into a bank and tried to cash a fraudulent check. He left without getting the money, but first, at the teller's request, he dipped his thumb in fingerprinting gel and rolled it on the check.
A Pasco sheriff's deputy took the check into evidence that day, but eight months passed before anyone compared the print with Gainer's.
Pasco authorities issued a felony check-fraud warrant for Gainer, and in November, Tampa police arrested him on that warrant, in front of the children. He rode in shame through his neighborhood.
Through his attorney, John Trevena, Gainer tried to explain to Pasco authorities that he had been the victim of identity theft. Months passed. Gainer had to pay his bondsman and lawyer.
He and his wife missed work to attend court. He lost his deposit on a real estate deal. His savings dried up. And he lost his chance to bid on the laundry.
Finally, the Sheriff's Office compared the print on the check with the set taken the day Gainer was arrested. They did not match, and the state had to drop the case.
"The wrong person was arrested, but the proper policy was followed in making that arrest," Pasco sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll said.
He declined to comment further on the lawsuit, but he did say an accomplice of the man who impersonated Gainer has been arrested. The impersonator himself is still at large.
Gainer said his credit is still in disarray and two of his properties are in preforeclosure.
But the authorities have erased his arrest record. If you pay the $24 and run his name through the state database, his name now comes back clean.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Thomas Lake can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3416.