Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Records suggest Hillsborough County trained detection dogs without drugs

In February 2012, an undercover member of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office met with a teenager nicknamed "Joker" in a drug sting operation along MLK Boulevard in Tampa. The officer and the teenager argued over 16 grams of meth because the prearranged deal was for 17 grams.

After agreeing on a lower price, the undercover officer bought the drugs, arrested the teen, and took the material back to the sheriff's office's evidence room. There he performed a chemical field test on the drugs, determining that the material he'd taken off the youngster was methamphetamine.

Joker was going to jail.

A month later, however, the drugs were sent to Florida's state lab for confirmation testing. The lab proved the officer wrong. The material did not contain illegal drugs, according to the chemist's report. The material that was, in fact, not methamphetamine was slated to be destroyed.

It wasn't. Instead, the non-narcotics appear to have had a bizarre second life. Sheriff's department records suggest the material was actually used to train the department's dogs — to sniff out drugs.

According to department records, on Dec. 11, 2014, the sheriff office's canine unit requested drugs scheduled for destruction to help train its dogs. Signatures at the bottom of the request document show it was approved, and that the material Joker had sold to the undercover officer was some of what was turned over. (Reminder: It wasn't drugs.)

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office's website says its K-9 Unit is made up of 22 dogs and 19 deputies who are their handlers. (For those following at home, the canine contingent consists of seven German shepherds, four Belgian Malinois, six German shepherd/Belgian Malinois mixes, three bloodhounds, one Labrador retriever and one German shorthaired pointer.) Each dog has a specialty, such as bomb or narcotics detection or fugitive apprehension.

RELATED: Confusion over field drug tests highlights lack of training for Florida officers

Over months, ProPublica contacted the sheriff's office by telephone and email to inquire about what the records suggest was a hiccup in their dog training. ProPublica had reviewed a mix of records involving Joker's alleged meth: arrest papers, state forensics lab documents, state attorney records, internal memos and other elements associated with Joker's case file.

ProPublica detailed for the sheriff's office the journey of the material from Joker's arrest captured in the documents and asked if it was true that one or more dogs had been trained, at least in part, to detect methamphetamine by sniffing a substance the state lab said wasn't methamphetamine.

The office, verbally and in writing, refused to respond. It's impossible to say for certain what happened, or if any of the dogs that received this training were still on the force.

"Typically," the website reads, "our canines retire when they reach 7-8 years of age, at which time they become the deputy's family pet."

Records suggest Hillsborough County trained detection dogs without drugs 11/22/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 22, 2016 12:16pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Dodgers close in on World Series with 6-1 win over Cubs


    CHICAGO — Yu Darvish pitched into the seventh inning, Chris Taylor homered again and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 6-1 on Tuesday night to open a commanding 3-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

    Los Angeles Dodgers' Chris Taylor hits a home run Tuesday during the third inning of Game 3 of baseball's National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs. [Associated Press]
  2. Peter Budaj, Lightning lose to Devils in shootout; Nikita Kucherov scores

    Lightning Strikes

    NEWARK, N.J. — For Peter Budaj, Tuesday's season debut had a shaky start.

    The Lightning’s Vladislav Namestnikov, right, battles Damon Severson for the puck.
  3. Mother's testimony about toddler's death brings judge to tears


    TAMPA — Nayashia Williams woke up early on May 7, 2014, to the sound of her daughter calling for her. It was the last time the young mother's mornings would begin with a summons from Myla Presley, who couldn't yet climb over the mesh fencing around the playpen she used as a bed.

    Deandre Gilmore looks towards the gallery Tuesday in a Tampa courtroom. Gilmore is accused of killing the 19 month-old daughter of his girlfriend in 2014. He said the child fell while he was giving her a bath. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  4. Speakers: Getting tough can't be only response to teen car thefts


    ST. PETERSBURG — Bob Dillinger remembers coming to Pinellas County as a legal intern in 1975. There were five major poverty zones in St. Petersburg.

    Wengay Newton, Florida House of Representatives (in front, in center), talks as a panelist to a packed room during a community forum on "Reclaiming our Youth: Is Juvenile Justice a Reality?" at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Museum in St. Petersburg Wednesday evening (10/17/17). The event was presented by the Fred G. Minnis, Sr. Bar Association. Community leaders discussed the ongoing auto theft epidemic among Pinellas youth.
  5. Internal White House documents allege manufacturing decline increases abortions, infertility and spousal abuse


    White House officials working on trade policy were alarmed last month when a top adviser to President Donald Trump circulated a two-page document that alleged a weakened manufacturing sector leads to an increase in abortion, spousal abuse, divorce and infertility, two people familiar with the matter told the …