BROOKSVILLE — Peyton Hyslop sat at a table in a deposition room at the State Attorney's Office.
Like many cases he handles, the Brooksville attorney was representing a client charged with DUI and was questioning a potential witness in the case. Though he never expected it, what he learned June 7 may jeopardize well more than 50 cases prosecutors have filed in Hernando County over the past year.
"If you'd state your name and occupation, please?" Hyslop asked of the woman. He thought he knew both answers. For years, she had worked as the breath test operator at the Hernando County Detention Center.
"Fran Greifenberger," she said. "And I'm unemployed."
She continued, "I resigned my position because there was a breach of security in my office."
Hyslop, a former Hernando County judge, was stunned.
She said that on numerous occasions since the Hernando Sheriff's Office took over the jail in August 2010, deputies had entered her office without permission and had moved items, tampered with instruments and opened and viewed evidence without her authorization or knowledge.
That would violate the Florida Administrative Code, which states that evidentiary breath test instruments must be accessible only to people issued licenses by the state. The rule serves to protect the chain of evidence.
"I put my resignation in because I could no longer sign a breath test affidavit in good conscience that everything was true and accurate because I don't know who was touching the instruments," she said later, according to documents obtained by the Times.
Three weeks earlier, at 2:36 a.m. May 19, Greifenberger had e-mailed Hernando sheriff's Col. Mike Maurer with her resignation and the same accusations.
The Sheriff's Office began an internal affairs investigation and determined the machines had not been tampered with and that jail personnel had not violated any "gross or obvious rules."
Still, Hyslop asks, why did the State Attorney's Office take more than two months after Greifenberger's deposition to share the information with lawyers representing people charged with recent DUIs? In that time, at least 15 people charged in Hernando with the crime over the past year either pleaded guilty or no contest.
Assistant State Attorney Donald "Sonny" McCathran said Monday he waited to release the information so the Sheriff's Office could finish its internal affairs report and determine whether the machines had been corrupted.
"I didn't want to piecemeal it all out," he said. "That's why I waited."
Now, McCathran realizes lawyers may try to use Greifenberger's testimony to exonerate their clients. He expects her statements could impact beyond 50 cases.
Based on the operator's claims, Hyslop said, some judges may not even allow the breath test results admitted as evidence. Even if they do, he noted that juries would likely be influenced by Greifenberger's doubt.
Still, McCathran said, he believes the evidence against all those charged with DUI in the county is valid.
Independent inspectors from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement later checked the machines and determined they hadn't been tampered with, a report stated.
Also, Maurer said, Greifenberger signed monthly reports stating that the machines were in compliance and never put her concerns in writing before her resignation.
Investigators reviewed hundreds of hours of security tapes from May 9 through May 26. They found jail staff had entered the room three times without Greifenberger or the other operator, Doug Lowery, present. Once, a deputy and inmate picked up trash. A second time, a deputy dropped a note off in the room.
The third incident occurred just minutes after Greifenberger resigned. Deputies needed to tape a DUI suspect's refusal to submit to a breath test. Maurer said Greifenberger and Lowery both refused to come in to take the recording, so deputies at the jail entered the room and did it on their own.
Despite the reassurance of the Sheriff's Office, Greifenberger maintains that unauthorized personnel should have never been in a room stocked with sensitive materials.
"There's a lot of evidence in that room going back years,'' she told the Times. "I'm not going to perjure myself by signing affidavits.''
John Woodrow Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1432.