Thursday, December 14, 2017
Public safety

Driver's license restored for Hernando deputy cleared of DUI charge

BROOKSVILLE — A Hernando County sheriff's deputy arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence last month has cleared another big hurdle in his effort to get back to work.

Deputy Joseph Tibor learned Thursday that his suspended driver's license had been reinstated. A state hearing officer ruled there wasn't enough evidence to show that the Florida Highway Patrol corporal who arrested Tibor on Jan. 12 had probable cause to suspect he was driving under the influence.

Tibor refused to submit a breath sample at the Hernando County Detention Center, then appealed the automatic one-year suspension required by law for a first refusal. He has been on paid leave since his arrest.

The news of his license reinstatement comes about three weeks after prosecutors said they would not pursue a DUI charge because of conflicting witness accounts and a lack of evidence. Tibor's attorney, Chip Mander, called several of those witnesses at the Feb. 20 license appeal hearing in Brooksville.

"He's happy," Mander said of his client Thursday. "He loves his job, and he's anxious to return."

Sheriff Al Nienhuis said Tibor, 46, will likely face an administrative inquiry instead of a full internal affairs investigation. Nienhuis noted that he needs at least a preponderance of evidence to levy disciplinary action against Tibor — the same standard the license hearing officer decided was not met.

"That's something I'm going to have to consider very strongly," Nienhuis said.

Highway Patrol Cpl. David Frye stopped Tibor in a white Mercedes about 9 p.m. on State Road 50 west of Brooksville. According to Frye's report, Tibor initially denied drinking any alcohol. But when Frye said he smelled alcohol on Tibor's breath and noted his glassy, bloodshot eyes, Tibor said he had maybe five drinks. Frye wrote that Tibor performed poorly on field sobriety exercises.

Hernando Deputy Bryan Faulkingham, who stopped and witnessed two of the three exercises, said Tibor performed well and did not smell of alcohol. A civilian riding along with Faulkingham also said Tibor appeared to pass the exercises. Neither Frye's Tahoe nor Faulkingham's car had dashboard cameras.

Two deputies at the Hernando County Detention Center said Tibor's eyes were bloodshot, but that he seemed coherent, steady on his feet and did not smell of alcohol. FHP Sgt. Heather Glenny, who arrived at the jail to conduct a breath test, said Tibor smelled strongly of alcohol and that his eyes were bloodshot and watery.

The video recorder at the jail failed to record Frye and Glenny's interview with Tibor. Glenny and detention Deputy Michael Paolella offered conflicting accounts for why that happened.

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Published: 12/14/17