Monday, December 18, 2017
Public safety

Did act of sheriff's captain rise to level of crime?

It's several weeks old, and now just one of many charges of misconduct against Hernando County sheriff's deputies, so here's a refresher on the case of Sgt. Joseph Reid and Capt. Tom Garcia.

Reid, who, like Garcia, worked in the office's vice and narcotics unit, got into a habit of covering personal debts with a pool of cash meant for undercover drug buys.

For a while, Reid returned the money. But in 2011, he told Garcia about a $1,500 shortfall he couldn't repay.

Garcia, his boss, repaid it for him, which was discovered during an investigation last November into Reid's use of the fund.

Reid was charged with grand theft in December. Garcia has been on paid leave while being investigated internally for what Sheriff Al Nienhuis said during a news conference last week was a matter of bad judgment.

But was it also something else — a criminal offense?

It kind of looks that way from reading Florida law, which defines an accessory after the fact as a person who gives just about any help to someone committing a crime.

"Let's just slightly change the scenario and say these guys work at a bank," said Peyton Hyslop, a Brooksville defense attorney and former county judge.

"A clerk takes the money out and a supervisor puts it back in. I can't imagine that the Sheriff's Office wouldn't be arresting that supervisor."

Maybe Garcia could have been charged with a misdemeanor, said the prosecutor on the Reid case, Phil Hanson. But the state would have had to prove some benefit to Garcia, who is still out $1,500. It also would have had to prove Garcia knew he was covering up a crime.

I can see that this might be a borderline case.

But I can also see the benefit to Garcia — preserving, at least for a while, the reputation of a unit that was closely tied to his future career.

As for knowing that he was covering up a crime: He's a highly regarded, veteran law enforcement officer; he probably should have known.

And even if the potential charge isn't serious, it is a serious matter whether Garcia was treated the same as an ordinary resident — or even an ordinary deputy.

Nienhuis promoted Garcia to captain just before the investigation into his department. I'm sure the recent arrests of all five deputies have stung Nienhuis, but I'm quite confident that a charge against someone with the sheriff's brand-new stamp of approval would have stung a little more.

Garcia's treatment also is a serious matter because it gets to the whole point of the news conference — that the public can trust Nienhuis' office because it has shown it is willing to root out its own problems, because he has proven he's just as tough on his own folks as he is on anyone else.

And it's extra serious because Garcia's unit is allowed to work undercover, in secret, and therefore must prove itself extra trustworthy.

With all of that in mind, here is what Nienhuis had to say about the prosecutor's decision not to charge Garcia:

"Maybe the argument is that he tried to help undo a crime."

You know, to me that doesn't sound all that tough.

In fact, if you are a bank manager and the detectives start sniffing around, I don't recommend telling them this — that you weren't covering anything up, you were just trying to "undo" a crime.

I don't think it would fly.

Comments
Authorities searching for missing Homestead boy, 13

Authorities searching for missing Homestead boy, 13

A Florida Missing Child Alert has been issued for a 13-year-old Homestead boy.According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, John Noble-Sinclair was last seen Sunday in the area of 300 block of Southwest 4th Avenue.He is described as a white...
Updated: 7 minutes ago

Deputies seek suspects who fired shots into crowded Northdale nightclub

TAMPA — Hillsborough County deputies are searching for the suspects who fired shots inside a crowded nightclub in Northdale early Monday morning.According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, deputies patrolling the area heard shooting coming...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Hudson woman killed in Pasco motorcycle accident

A Hudson woman was killed Saturday night in Pasco County when the motorcycle she was a passenger on struck a truck.According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Patrick McKinney, 29 and of Hudson, was driving his 2003 Kawasaki motorcycle southbound on U.S...
Updated: 30 minutes ago

Search continues for suspect in fatal Clearwater drive-shooting

CLEARWATER — Police continue to search for the suspect after a woman was killed Sunday night in a drive-by shooting.Authorities said the shooting occurred around 8:15 p.m. in the 1500 block of Scranton Avenue.An unidentified 30-year-old woman was kil...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Wesley Chapel woman, 28, dies after crashing motorcycle

LUTZ — A 28-year-old motorcyclist died Sunday after she crashed near Lutz Lake Fern Road and Apian Way, Hillsborough deputies reported.Erica Kristen Rodriguez of Wesley Chapel was riding a Kawasaki motorcycle with a small group of motorcyclists eastb...
Published: 12/17/17

Woman, 24, hit by Land Rover, in critical condition

LARGO — A 24-year-old woman is in critical condition after she was struck by a vehicle Saturday night, police said.Khadijah Wood was walking through the parking lot of the Sandy Lane Apartment Homes on Belcher Road about 7:30 p.m.At the same time, Ju...
Published: 12/17/17
Murder suspect is on the run after fatally shooting a father, cops say

Murder suspect is on the run after fatally shooting a father, cops say

A first-degree murder suspect remains at large almost a week after the fatal shooting of a Winter Haven father.The Polk County Sheriff’s Office says Johnny Ray Owsley’s murder of 35-year-old Adam Thrower, called "Cook" by friends, involved Owsley’s e...
Published: 12/17/17

Two die in head-on crash on Gunn Highway in Odessa

ODESSA — Hillsborough County deputies are investigating a head-on crash on Gunn Highway that killed two and sent a child to the hospital Saturday afternoon.About 12: 45 p.m., Terry Lee Bronschidle, 70, of Tampa was driving his Chevy Traverse south on...
Published: 12/16/17
Firefighters injured after early-morning blaze at Tampa strip mall

Firefighters injured after early-morning blaze at Tampa strip mall

TAMPA — Three firefighters were injured early Saturday morning while battling a fire at a strip mall on W Waters Avenue, according to Tampa Fire Rescue.Firefighters said the blaze started around 2:45 p.m. in the attic of L.A. Nail Supply, located at ...
Published: 12/16/17
Pinellas sheriff’s investigator fired, could face criminal charges for involvement in child custody battle

Pinellas sheriff’s investigator fired, could face criminal charges for involvement in child custody battle

LARGO — A Pinellas sheriff’s child protective investigator has been fired and could face criminal charges after an investigation found she made a child custody recommendation to a judge as a favor to a friend.Jayne Johnson, who has worked for the She...
Published: 12/15/17