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Tampa could pay $65,000 to settle DUI lawsuit brought by Cuba activist Al Fox

TAMPA — City Hall could pay $65,000 to settle parts of a lawsuit filed by prominent Cuba activist Albert A. Fox Jr., who contended that his 2013 arrest on a DUI charge was motivated by a quota system for Tampa's DUI squad.

The settlement is headed to the City Council next week. If approved, it would settle Fox's claims against the city and police Officer Dean Uno.

But it would not resolve Fox's claims against a third defendant: fired Tampa police Sgt. Ray Fernandez, the officer who pulled Fox over. Fernandez, who was fired as the result of his involvement in an unrelated arrest about eight months before Fox sued the city, is being represented by a private attorney.

The settlement would achieve one of Fox's main goals in bringing the case, which was to clear his name and get the city to acknowledge that it made a mistake, said Fox's attorney, Joseph Lopez.

"This should have never happened," Lopez said.

Fernandez stopped Fox, then 69, for speeding along N Dale Mabry Highway on Feb. 21, 2013, as Fox drove home from playing poker at St. Petersburg's Derby Lane. His lawsuit says he had a sip or two of beer as part of a promotion at the dog track that night, but did not order or drink any other alcohol.

Fox's lawsuit contended that the field sobriety tests he was ordered to perform that night were inappropriate for drivers older than 65.

He was arrested, strip-searched twice and held in jail for 12 hours. An alcohol breath test and urinalysis found no alcohol in his body. The breath test showed his blood-alcohol content was 0.00. Prosecutors later dropped the charge against him.

"I'm suing for my mother and father's good name," Fox said Friday night, "and so that the police department has to pay a price" when officers misuse their authority.

As is standard in such settlements, the city denies that it has any liability in Fox's case, but is acknowledging that the settlement could cost taxpayers less than going to trial and maybe losing.

Fox is a former Washington, D.C., lobbyist who founded the nonprofit Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation and once ran for Congress. On the night of his arrest, he has said, Uno remarked that he recognized Fox as "that Cuba guy."

A month before he pulled Fox over, Fernandez was involved in the arrest of Tampa lawyer C. Philip Campbell, a case that exploded into a tawdry scandal.

During a trial pitting radio personalities Todd "MJ" Schnitt and Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, Campbell went to a downtown steak house one night after representing Schnitt in court.

There, he ran into a young paralegal from the law firm representing Clem. She flirted with Campbell, bought drinks and drank with him — all while texting her bosses — and eventually asked him to drive her home. Meanwhile, one of Clem's lawyers reached out to Fernandez, a family friend, who arranged the arrest.

Prosecutors later called Campbell's arrest a setup and dropped the DUI charge.

Last year, the Florida Supreme Court disbarred all three of Clem's lawyers: Robert Adams, Adam Filthaut and Stephen Diaco.

In firing Fernandez, then-police Chief Jane Castor said he had lost his "impartiality and professionalism in dealing with this case."

Later, the state dropped at least a dozen DUI cases in which he was a witness. In addition, the Police Department brought in a review team that included a judge and a statewide prosecutor to scrutinize DUI squad cases and procedures. The review team said it found no evidence of "inappropriate targeted or selective enforcement" and "no red flags that would suggest any other substantial failure in the practices of TPD."

But the Police Department did announce changes to how officers handled DUIs. The main changes included doing more thorough investigations and not simply relying on oft-used descriptions that officers observed drivers with "slurred speech," an "odor of alcohol" or "glassy eyes."

"We made some changes, both in personnel and policy," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said this week. "I'm not that familiar with the Fox case, as to know what occurred and what didn't occur. But we don't have any problem, if we're making mistakes, with making corrections internally here."

Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times.

Tampa could pay $65,000 to settle DUI lawsuit brought by Cuba activist Al Fox 03/10/17 [Last modified: Friday, March 10, 2017 9:11pm]
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