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Trial over, Brooksville police and State Attorney's Office must move on

BROOKSVILLE — Brooksville police Lt. Rick Hankins didn't hesitate when the defense attorney asked a startling question.

It was the second day of testimony in the perjury trial of former Brooksville police Detective Shawn Terry, and Hankins sat on the stand, dressed in uniform, answering queries from Terry's lawyer.

"Do you feel that the Police Department is being persecuted by the State Attorney's Office?" Ellis Faught Jr. asked.

"Yes, I do," Hankins replied.

It was an eyebrow-raising moment, the second-in-command of the Police Department offering such a candid assessment of the relationship between two agencies that work together to fight crime.

Hankins would not answer questions from the St. Petersburg Times to elaborate on the response, police Chief George Turner said Wednesday, the day after the trial ended with Terry's acquittal on both counts against him.

Turner, who sat through most of the second day of the trial and watched as Hankins and other department employees testified, also declined to comment.

"What happens in trial, happens in trial," Turner said. "We still have to move on with a working relationship with the state attorney and everyone else, and that's what we're going to try to do."

While that is surely a politically correct response, it's also an accurate assessment of what will happen, said Assistant State Attorney Ric Ridgway, who prosecuted Terry's case.

Ridgway said he spoke with Turner after closing arguments Tuesday afternoon and before the clerk announced the verdict about 90 minutes later.

"The chief understands my position," Ridgway said. "There's no vendetta against them or anyone else. Issues with individuals don't equate to issues with an entire department."

Still, Hankins' response on the stand last week is a sign of the tension that can arise when the State Attorney's Office tries to make a case against a police officer. Professional duties can clash with personal feelings as the investigation of one man prompts prosecutors to seek evidence in the department.

Terry resigned the day before his arrest last July. In more than 10 years as a law enforcement officer, the 33-year-old had been the subject of 30 complaints and investigations, and eight reprimands, some dating back to his time at the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.

Hankins, however, still runs the Police Department's day-to-day operations. A veteran lawman who surprised many by deciding in 2007 not to apply for the top spot when Chief Ed Tincher resigned, Hankins was a key witness for the defense as the state tried to prove that Terry encouraged an informer to lie in a deposition about why he was working for the department. Ridgway also tried to convince a six-member jury that Terry lied in his own deposition in the same drug case.

To prepare for Terry's trial, Faught and Ridgway deposed several current Brooksville police employees and put a few on the stand. There were some telling moments during the trial that leave open the possibility of lingering resentment.

It was clear, for example, that Ridgway was skeptical of Hankins' testimony, which at times conflicted with accounts of eyewitnesses and statements Terry made in his deposition for the drug case.

In an interview after the trial, Faught said Hankins wondered if he was on the cusp of charges himself last November after a deposition with Ridgway for Terry's perjury case.

Faught said Hankins felt the message from Ridgway was this: "I'm not saying you're lying, but I think you're holding something back."

The Terry saga has left an impression on the department, Faught said.

"I talked to all those guys," he said, "and I think the feeling is they're being unfairly treated by the State Attorney's Office."

• • •

Early one morning in October 2009, Terry and Hankins drove to the Village Green Apartments off U.S. 98.

They knocked on the door of Michael Blue, a 20-year-old roofer and small-time pot dealer. Witnesses there that morning testified Terry and Hankins came to the back door of the apartment, guns drawn, looking not for marijuana, but for prescription pills. They asked for Blue, witnesses testified.

They didn't find any pills; Blue testified he did have 100 Xanax pills the night before, but sold some and gave some away. But they did find a small amount of marijuana owned by Blue and his roommate.

Blue would become an informer for the police, pointing out drug houses that same day and, later, using a tiny videocamera to record himself buying crack cocaine in south Brooksville.

On his first drug buy, Blue failed to get the transaction on camera, but did record the seller's face. Terry and Hankins sought to move forward with the case anyway, using Blue as a witness.

Blue initially told attorneys during a deposition for the drug case last June that he volunteered to become an informer to get $60 from the department to pay his cell phone bill. Terry said in his own deposition that Blue was never under investigation or in danger of arrest.

But prosecutors got suspicious and called Blue back in, offering him immunity in return for the truth. Blue said he had come up with the story himself and was encouraged by Terry to do so. According to Blue, Terry did so because the State Attorney's Office doesn't like working with witnesses who have turned informer to work off criminal charges.

Blue offered the same account on the stand during Terry's trial. Ridgway tried to make the case that Blue was under investigation and became an informer because Terry threatened to charge him with possession of marijuana. Prosecutors said Terry encouraged Blue to lie to bolster his credibility as a witness to the drug buy.

Ridgway noted that Terry, in a deposition for that case, said Hankins grabbed him that morning and said they were going to talk to Blue.

That conflicted with Hankins' testimony. He said he wasn't even sure if he'd ever heard of Blue, and he and Terry were simply knocking on doors that morning, looking into complaints of drug sales in the complex, and never pulled their guns at Blue's door. During the visit, Blue boasted about the drug dealers he knew in town and volunteered to help, Hankins said.

As it was working with the State Attorney's Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement recorded two calls between Blue and Terry, hoping Terry would incriminate himself when Blue told him the State Attorney's Office had called him back for more questions.

"I told you not to lie," Terry told Blue during one call. "If you lied, you made a mistake; that's the bottom line."

An FDLE agent who testified said Blue never said anything about lying, a sign Terry suspected he was being recorded and trying to cover himself.

Turner testified that Terry showed up later that day at a Brooksville restaurant where Hankins and Turner were having lunch together. Terry was upset because he suspected he had just gotten a "controlled call" orchestrated by the State Attorney's Office, Turner said. Assistant State Attorney Don Barbee's name came up, Turner said.

Barbee declined to comment for this story, referring questions to Ridgway. Barbee has said in the past that he considers Hankins a friend.

In his closing argument, Faught noted that no one at the FDLE or the State Attorney's Office informed Turner about the plan to record calls between Terry and Blue to gather evidence for the case.

"They didn't trust the chief enough" to give him a heads up, Faught told the jury.

At one point, Brooksville police Sgt. Randal Orman's testimony about how Blue came to be an informer seemed to conflict with a statement he gave the FDLE during its investigation of Terry.

Ridgway then asked Orman about his relationship with Terry.

"Are you friends with Shawn Terry?" Ridgway asked.

Orman said yes.

"Shawn Terry has a lot of friends in the Brooksville Police Department, doesn't he?" Ridgway asked.

That's a textbook trial strategy, Ridgway said last week. He was simply trying to show the witnesses had a bias, not that they were actively obstructing justice.

"If I had evidence to support that, I'd be filing charges," Ridgway said.

A juror who spoke to reporters after the trial said the jury had plenty of reasonable doubt, mainly because Blue, who had been caught in at least two lies during the trial, wasn't a credible witness.

• • •

Moments after his acquittal, Terry took a parting shot.

He told reporters he had been targeted by Barbee and State Attorney Brad King. Terry said that, shortly before the perjury charges were brought against him, he angered and embarrassed both men in meetings by "standing up for one of my victims" in a case.

Ridgway said he assumes Terry was referring to the case involving prominent Brooksville businessman Martin "Dan" Patrick.

Patrick was arrested last May after police said they found evidence that he and Doris Siegel, a septuagenarian accused of duping her elderly friends and neighbors in a lottery scheme, had agreed to split the proceeds. Patrick, 78, faced charges of forgery and illegal structuring of financial transactions, and was also accused of perjury in connection with statements he made about his finances in 2007 when he was going through a divorce.

But Barbee's office declined to prosecute the case. Ridgway said the statute of limitations had run out for some of the charges, and there were other issues with the case.

Terry and Turner met with Barbee and King in Brooksville to try to convince them to reconsider.

"Brad explained to Chief Turner that there wasn't a crime that could possibly be proven," Ridgway said.

As for Terry's comments after the trial, Ridgway said: "The fact that Shawn Terry thinks he's important enough for Brad King to use the resources of this office to support a vendetta is ridiculous. It's laughable, actually."

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

Trial over, Brooksville police and State Attorney's Office must move on 01/15/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 15, 2011 1:18pm]

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