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Tampa police chief reorganizes DUI unit after scathing report

TAMPA — Four days after prosecutors questioned the credibility of two Tampa police DUI officers, Chief Jane Castor announced the reorganization of the agency's DUI unit.

Starting Sunday, the special unit will be fanned out from one chain of command to the agency's three districts. District commanders will supervise the 12 officers, providing more accountability, Castor said Thursday.

Other units have been decentralized over the past decade including narcotics, she said, and the department had for years considered doing the same with DUI. The Jan. 23 drunken driving arrest of Tampa lawyer C. Philip Campbell was the catalyst.

"As this investigation comes to light," the chief said, "it's clear that there needs to be more supervision and more oversight with the DUI unit."

The chief's announcement came hours after Campbell's attorney, John Fitzgibbons, sent a searing letter to her and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn asking for the appointment of an outside investigator to look into the DUI unit, which Fitzgibbons says is embroiled in scandal.

He pointed to Campbell's charge, which was dropped Monday, as well as the February DUI arrest of anti-Cuban-embargo activist Al Fox, who had a blood-alcohol level of 0.000. Fox's charge also was dropped.

Campbell's arrest appears to have been set up in the midst of an acrimonious lawsuit by opposing counsel at the law firm of Adams & Diaco, according to a Pinellas-Pasco state attorney's memo released Monday.

According to the report, a paralegal from Adams & Diaco bought drinks for Campbell at Malio's Prime Steakhouse during the defamation trial between two radio host rivals.

Campbell did not know the paralegal, Melissa Personius, worked for the opposing firm. Campbell eventually drove her car after she insisted she could not leave it with the valet.

Tampa police Sgt. Ray Fernandez pulled Campbell over near Malio's, where he had been waiting for Campbell to leave, tipped off by close friend Adam Filthaut — also a lawyer at Adams & Diaco.

The state attorney's memo questioned the credibility of the two Tampa officers involved in the arrest: Timothy McGinnis and DUI supervisor Fernandez.

Fitzgibbons said Tampa officials should press for answers.

"The conduct of the police involved and the lawyers of the Adams & Diaco law firm was despicable," he said at a news conference Thursday. "It's a disgrace. The conduct is disgusting, and it is an insult to every honest and ethical police officer and lawyer."

In a phone interview, Fox agreed, saying an independent review is "what our community needs."

Buckhorn was out of town and could not be reached for comment Thursday.

When allegations of a setup came out in January, Castor said it was "disheartening" that Fernandez was a "pawn" in the situation. The department never opened an internal affairs investigation.

The state attorney's report, however, contains 19 pages of telephone calls that indicate Fernandez was more than a pawn. That log shows he and Filthaut exchanged multiple calls and texts after Filthaut called in a tip about Campbell drinking at Malio's. The texts continued for four hours until shortly after Campbell's arrest about 10 p.m.

Shortly after 7 a.m. the next morning, Filthaut texted Fernandez again. They exchanged a few texts and then had a nine-minute phone conversation.

Investigators do not have the content of those texts. Fernandez deleted them. He later told a state investigator it was an accident.

Fernandez was temporarily moved to a desk job in May, but only after the FBI opened an investigation. He has not been disciplined.

Thursday, Castor said she had only recently learned of some of the details, including the exchange of 92 texts. To call that fact "disappointing" would be an understatement, she said.

But she said there is no need for the special independent counsel Fitzgibbons requested. The FBI is doing a good enough job, she said. When those details are released, everyone involved will have due process, she said, including Sgt. Fernandez.

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3433.

Tampa police chief reorganizes DUI unit after scathing report 08/01/13 [Last modified: Friday, August 2, 2013 3:45pm]
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