BROOKSVILLE — Jurors in the two-day trial of police Capt. Rick Hankins found the Brooksville Police Department's second-in-command not guilty Wednesday of a charge of misdemeanor battery that originated after a scuffle with another guest at a Christmas party.
The six-member jury deliberated for about 30 minutes before deciding that Hankins, 39, did not throw the initial punch at Fred Taclik while the two were on the patio at the home of Dr. Brian Kroll, a Spring Hill physician who hosted the December affair.
An 18-year veteran of the Police Department, Hankins took the stand Wednesday to refute the contention by Assistant State Attorney Phillip Hanson that he initiated the scuffle by throwing a "sucker punch" at Taclik's head. Rather, Hankins said, he was merely defending himself from a swinging fist that caused a minor scrape to his forehead.
Hankins' version conflicted with those of several witnesses who testified that others at the party had to pull the two apart in order to stop the brief fight.
Hankins, who grew up in Brooksville, told jurors that he has known Taclik, who works as a corrections officer in Sumter County, for 20 years and that he considered him a friendly acquaintance. He denied being upset with him on the night of the party.
"I didn't get the feeling there was anything wrong at all," Hankins said. "We had a good time."
In an effort to convince jurors that "the only issue in this case is self-defense," defense attorney Ellis Faught of Brandon spent considerable time zeroing in on what he considered inconsistencies in witness accounts.
Hankins joined the Brooksville police force in 1997 and was promoted to captain two years ago. His responsibilities include day-to-day management of the department and its employees.
The Monday after the party, Hankins submitted to Chief George Turner a memo offering his account of the incident, along with a photo of his scraped forehead and a statement from his wife that supported his account. The State Attorney's Office issued an arrest warrant in January.
Turner said Hankins was placed on restricted administrative duty that was lifted after an internal investigation. He remains on light administrative duty because of back and head injuries suffered last August when his city-issued vehicle was struck from behind.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.