DUNEDIN — Detective John Grubb was off-duty, strolling the Publix. He grabbed the bananas, the zucchini, and headed to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription for his boxer, Maxine.
Another shopper caught his attention. Grubb knew Thomas Manning Hook was a registered sex offender. He knew Hook had a history of impersonating cops. Then Grubb saw something that made him abandon his shopping cart: Hook had a sheriff's badge clipped to his waist.
Grubb thought: This guy has to be stopped.
Grubb might have prevented a sex crime when he recognized Hook stealing cookies and children's sticker books at the Dunedin Publix on Wednesday night, authorities said.
Hook had a stun gun in his car, which resembled a police cruiser, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said. Deputies also found dating advertisements and ads placed on Craigslist by women seeking a male roommate.
Hook, 43, 2670 N McMullen-Booth Road, No. 1211, Clearwater, was arrested on charges of petit theft and unlawful use of a police badge. He was convicted of a sex offense and other crimes in South Carolina in 1992.
In that case, Hook tried to force a woman into a sex act while impersonating an officer, deputies said. But that wasn't Hook's first time, or even his second, getting caught impersonating an officer. Records show he has a lengthy history of convictions on the same charge in other states.
Hook moved to Clearwater this summer. When he arrived, he did an intake interview with Detective Grubb, who works for the sexual predator/offender tracking unit of the Sheriff's Office. Detectives do those interviews so they'll be familiar with the sex offenders in their communities.
That's why Grubb recognized Hook right away when he walked into the Main Street Publix about 8 p.m.
Grubb arrested Hook when he walked out of the store with Halloween cookies, greeting cards for children, five sticker books and no receipt. Some of the items were stuffed into his waistband, Grubb said.
Hook was driving a Ford Crown Victoria with a North Carolina license plate. The car wasn't registered to Hook, but it has not been reported stolen. Deputies were still trying to track down the owner Thursday.
When deputies searched the car before impounding it, they found the stun gun and an air gun. The air gun's red tip had been removed, which made it look like a 9mm semiautomatic firearm, Grubb said.
The badge Hook was wearing on his waist was an authentic sheriff's badge from Manatee County. It is unclear how he obtained it.
"The fear is that he is, after all these years, leading others to believe he's a law enforcement officer," Grubb said. "There can't be any good explanation. It can only be a bad thing for him."
Hook was convicted of impersonating a police officer six times in South Carolina between 1987 and 1995, according to law enforcement records.
Hook made headlines in 1995, when he was sentenced to six months in prison and ordered to undergo mental health counseling after he pretended to be a deputy who wanted to help search for Susan Smith's two sons.
Smith reported her two boys had been abducted but later confessed to drowning them. She was sentenced to life in prison.
In 2000, Hook was arrested after several months of posing as a Marine in North Carolina, according to news articles in that state. He served five months in prison.
Just two months after his release, he was arrested again after he told staff at the Duke University Medical Center that he was a detective. Authorities found him in possession of an authentic Greensboro, N.C., police badge and a .40-caliber gun stolen from a police distributor, the articles show.
Wednesday, Hook was also arrested on an outstanding Polk County warrant for failure to appear on charges of driving while license suspended or revoked and unlawful possession of a weapon. Thursday evening, he was being held in the Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $20,300 bail.
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Rita Farlow can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4157.