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Arrested St. Petersburg detective was troubled yet praised, police records show

ST. PETERSBURG — Internal police documents paint a complicated and contradictory portrait of a St. Petersburg detective arrested Wednesday on allegations that he extorted cash and property from a confidential informant.

Supervisors repeatedly lauded Anthony Foster for his prowess in solving even the coldest cases, not just his, but those of other detectives. They marveled at his success rate and theorized that he did it by knowing the city's most dangerous streets and cultivating an underworld network of informers.

They nicknamed him "the Closer" after he cleared 100 percent of his homicide cases in 2008.

But shadowing the glowing reviews is a trail of reprimands and suspensions that reflect the 13-year department veteran's tumultuous personal life. Records show he was suspended five times between 1997 and 2005.

Three suspensions came after Foster had fights or arguments with women that required the police to intervene. Three involved alcohol. After the last suspension, police Chief Chuck Harmon gave Foster a stern warning.

"If he had another issue with alcohol," Harmon said Thursday, "my last conversation with him was that his employment would be terminated."

After that, Foster seemed to get his life on track. He was promoted to homicide, where he was often held up as a model.

His progress derailed Wednesday when the FBI arrested him on charges of wire fraud and interference with commerce by threats.

Unlike his previous problems, these allegations went to the heart of what his supervisors called his best police work — his use of confidential informants.

Foster, 39, helped to reduce the informer's criminal sentences in exchange for $8,000 worth of cash and goods, like a flat screen television, shoes for his children, and even groceries bought with the informer's food stamp benefits, according to the federal criminal complaint. He did so blatantly, repeatedly sending text messages and calling the informer with demands, the complaint says.

In the hundreds of pages in Foster's personnel file, there is no record of anyone questioning his use of informants. To the contrary, year after year, he was complimented for his professionalism, autonomy and knack for handling them. Officers shadowed him to learn how to deal with informers.

"His pleasant personality has caused many confidential sources to trust him with information that has led to many arrests," Sgt. Al White noted in 2004.

"Anthony has a good rapport with several members in the community that call him on a regular basis to provide information on past, present, and future crimes," Sgt. Terrell Skinner wrote in 2009. By the time of that assessment, the FBI says Foster had already started extorting money from the informer.

For the first time Thursday, St. Petersburg police revealed that they had launched an internal affairs investigation of Foster in late March or early April — until the FBI told them to back off because they were investigating him.

Harmon said the FBI kept Assistant Chief David DeKay briefed on the investigation. This week the FBI shared that they planned to interview Foster on Wednesday at the State Attorney's Office, but didn't warn about his arrest.

The confusion about how much the department knew stemmed from the FBI's request for secrecy, Harmon said.

City Council member Karl Nurse wants more answers from police brass.

"How many women do you need to beat up before you are no longer a St. Petersburg police officer?" Nurse said Thursday. "It seems reasonable to ask, 'How many other people are still on the force who have been repeatedly suspended for acts related to domestic violence?' "

Sgt. Karl Lounge, police union leader, also questioned how Foster's career survived so many missteps. There is a perception in the department that he had high-placed protectors, Lounge said.

"The bottom line is everyone should be treated equally," Lounge said. "He's been given some breaks."

Foster's career was rocky from the beginning.

Ten months after he was hired in 1997, he came under scrutiny for showing up at a former girlfriend's house at 5:30 a.m., waking her neighbors with his car horn and refusing to leave until police were called. Foster was suspended for a day.

Court documents show his personal life also was in disarray. He lost a paternity suit in 1998 and was ordered to pay $200 every two weeks. Five years later, in 2003, he lost a second suit to a second woman and was ordered to pay $819 a month.

That same year he married Lutricia Herring.

He moved from patrol to the robbery division as a detective. He was named employee of the quarter in 2004.

A month later Foster was investigated for a scuffle that stoked racial tensions in the department.

Foster, according to an internal affairs complaint, was off-duty and in the department parking lot after having drinks with a woman. It was past 1 a.m. when his wife arrived and found him in the passenger seat of the woman's car. When Foster, who was intoxicated, wouldn't acknowledge her, she jumped on the car's hood. At least eight officers arrived when she yelled for help as the woman started to drive away — at Foster's direction — with his wife on the hood.

When the car stopped, the officers tried to keep the two apart. Foster, who is black, twice slapped the outstretched hands of a white officer. Tensions escalated. White and black officers clashed trying to subdue Foster and his wife, leaving hurt feelings.

Foster wasn't arrested.

The investigation led to Foster's suspension for three days without pay, upsetting some officers who said he got preferential treatment. Harmon said the case was difficult because witnesses gave conflicting accounts, split along racial lines.

Almost a year later, police again responded to a fight between Foster and his wife, leading to internal and criminal investigations — but no arrest.

Foster was suspended for five days for violating a policy that employees conduct themselves in a professional manner.

Six months later, Foster was suspended for 20 days because he dodged phone calls from the lieutenant attempting to administer a random alcohol test Foster was required to take as part of his earlier punishment.

Foster told his supervisor later that he was with another woman that night. "(Foster) gave misleading statements because he did not want it to be known that he was with a female and had been drinking," the report stated.

A disciplinary board, which included Harmon, sustained allegations against Foster of insubordination, conduct unbecoming, disobeying lawful orders, failing to cooperate truthfully and fully, and discrediting the department.

After that fifth suspension in 2005, Foster's file is filled with accolades and commendations.

In his last evaluation in 2010, it was clear he was being groomed.

"Anthony has leadership capabilities," Sgt. Skinner wrote. "I recommend he take supervisory courses that will prepare him for the role of a first line supervisor."

Arrested St. Petersburg detective was troubled yet praised, police records show 06/09/11 [Last modified: Friday, June 10, 2011 10:28am]
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