Officers forbidden from leaving prisoner, chief says

ST. PETERSBURG — Police Chief Charles "Chuck" Harmon said Thursday that department policy prohibits officers from leaving prisoners alone.

But Harmon said he couldn't say if an officer violated that policy by leaving a college student shackled in the back of a transport van while she ate lunch at a local cafe this fall. That's because an investigation is under way to see if the student's story is true.

If the story holds up, it appears the officer broke policy. "Once they're arrested, there's supposed to be a police officer with them at all times," Harmon said.

University of South Florida student Francesca Fretta, 20, was arrested Oct. 17 on a misdemeanor charge of refusing to sign a citation.

Her attorney, John Trevena, wants the case dropped.

Harmon defended the arrest that landed Fretta in the back of the van in the first place.

"You would think she would understand the law once it's been explained to her," he said. "That's not really the time for a person to argue with law enforcement. You go to a magistrate and plead your case. Fighting it on the side of the road is never the right thing to do."

Nearly 14,000 people were arrested in the city in 2007, only seven for failing to sign a citation. Just three, including Fretta, have faced the charge this year.

She admits doing 57 mph in a 45-mph zone on the Pinellas Bayway. But she denies ignoring warnings of arrest if she didn't sign the ticket.

"She asked where does it say if you do not sign that you will go to jail," Douglas wrote in his report. "I showed her on the citation where it was written. She still would not sign the citation."

Fretta said the officer never gave her a chance to sign it.

After her arrest, she fainted and was diagnosed with diabetes at a hospital. Then she was taken to a transport van, where she said she was left alone in chains, with the air on, for up to 45 minutes while Officer Sandra Minor stopped to eat lunch.

Both officers are under investigation.

Minor, 47, is a 22-year veteran. She was in the news in 1996 when her partner, Officer James Knight, shot motorist TyRon Lewis, which led to two days of rioting. A grand jury said both officers acted properly.

Douglas, 45, joined the force in 1990. In 2001 he was commended for snatching a 5-year-old girl from a violent drunk.

Officers forbidden from leaving prisoner, chief says 12/18/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 22, 2008 12:44pm]

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