ST. PETERSBURG — The Police Department is investigating two officers for the arrest of a college student who says she was left shackled alone in a transport van while an officer went to a restaurant for lunch.
Francesca Fretta was arrested Oct. 17 after an officer said she refused to sign a speeding ticket. The charge is a second-degree misdemeanor.
But then, Fretta says, another officer left her in the van for up to 45 minutes to stop for lunch while on the way to jail.
How the 20-year-old ended up in the back of that van in the first place is a complicated tale. The arresting officer and Fretta each have their own side to tell.
It all started with a blank line on a speeding ticket.
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Fretta, a political science major who is minoring in pre-law at the University of South Florida, was on her way to the beach. She doesn't deny she was doing 57 mph in a 45-mph zone on the Pinellas Bayway.
But she says the cop who pulled her over, John Douglas, wrote on the $200 ticket that she was driving a Hyundai.
"That's how it all started," she says. "He wrote a Hyundai. I had a Daewoo.
"When I tried to explain to him (the error), over and over again he keep asking: 'Are you refusing to sign the citation?' " Fretta says. "I was just pointing out the error.
"I never refused to sign the citation," she says.
Douglas' report states that he gave her "ample time" to sign the ticket, but all she did was ask "where does it say if you do not sign that you will go to jail?"
After ignoring repeated warnings to sign the ticket, Fretta was arrested, the report states.
Fretta then fainted and was taken to a hospital. The officer wrote in his report that Fretta apologized to him.
"She stated she got a little worked up and was sorry for not listening to me," he wrote.
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But that's not all that happened at the hospital.
Fretta said she was diagnosed with Type-2 diabetes after the staff drew her blood — while her hands were cuffed behind her.
Then Douglas drove her to Officer Sandra Minor's prisoner transport van. Douglas dropped off Fretta with Minor and left.
Instead of taking her to the Pinellas County Jail, Fretta says Minor said she had to wait to see if more prisoners were coming.
Then Minor drove to get lunch at Cafe Ten-O-One at 1001 First Ave. N, according to Fretta — with the diabetic woman locked inside the air-conditioned van.
Fretta believes she was left alone for 30 to 45 minutes, but can't say for sure. She said she started blacking out because of the stress and her low blood sugar.
Her lawyer, John Trevena, filed complaints against both officers. Police spokesman Bill Proffitt said inquiries were under way, but said he couldn't comment while they are ongoing.
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The charge, refusing to sign a citation, is a second-degree misdemeanor that calls for up to 60 days in jail. It's also Fretta's first arrest. It's unlikely she would see any jail time. But she could lose her Florida Bright Futures scholarship and financial aid, she said.
Trevena has asked prosecutors to drop the case.
In the meantime, Fretta is trying to be philosophical about it all. "I guess everything happens for a reason," she said. "Now I know I have diabetes."