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St. Petersburg police officer charged with hitting car, leaving

ST. PETERSBURG — One night last summer, following a Rays game, a Riverview man flagged down a police officer about a hit-and-run accident.

The man said his van was rear-ended leaving Tropicana Field. No one was injured, and there was no real damage. Typical stuff, really. Except for this:

He said the car that hit him was a marked, city police cruiser.

St. Petersburg police are investigating the crash and have zeroed in on one of their own: 25-year-old Officer Chris Dixon.

Dixon was cited in September for careless driving and leaving the scene of an accident. He has been on restricted duty, pending resolution of his case and the completion of an internal investigation.

Dixon denies involvement in the July 29 crash and has entered a not guilty plea to both charges. A pre-trial hearing is set for March 23.

"Based upon the witness identification, physical evidence, circumstantial evidence and Officer Dixon's statements/mannerisms, there is an abundance of probable cause and I am confident that Officer Dixon fled the scene of the crash," Officer Scott Blanchette wrote in his report of the incident.

Before charging Dixon, Blanchette and Officer Mike Jockers spent six weeks investigating. Among the things they say they found:

• Dixon had been assigned a cruiser for an off-duty assignment that night. He worked at a traffic post and inside the stadium.

• Two other officers who were working near the stadium that night, officers Lisa Gaskins and Richard Miranda, said they heard what sounded like a crash as they directed traffic. When they looked up, they saw a van and a police car near each other.

"It was loud enough for me to understand that two cars collided, but what took me by surprise was seeing the cruiser leave the area," Miranda said in a deposition.

Miranda later identified Dixon as the driver.

• As supervisors inspected cruisers later that night, Dixon offered information about scuff marks that were on the vehicle's front bumper. He said the marks had already been noted in a previous damage log in 2008.

Investigators later learned the 2008 damage had been fixed in January 2009. Further, a report says: "The damaged cruiser and the victim's vehicle were compared side by side and the damage on the van appeared to be almost an exact match to the cruiser."

• Dixon's GPS didn't show his cruiser at the crash site at the time it was reported. Investigators believe he may have had the system disabled at the time of the crash, then enabled it later. Dixon told investigators he knew the GPS could be disabled and had done it before, but not in this instance.

Blanchette and Jockers both noted in their reports that he behaved in a way they interpreted as being untruthful.

He rocked back and forth in his chair, had his arms folded tightly across his chest, wouldn't make eye contact and at one point had his head in his hands, they said.

When confronted with the indications he may be involved, Dixon's hands and knees started to shake, Jockers wrote.

"Several times during the course of the conversation, Officer Dixon made the unusual statement of 'I will do anything to help you prove that I did not do this,' " Blanchette wrote.

After the case is resolved and the internal report is completed, then the Police Department will weigh in. The case will be reviewed by a chain-of-command board, but any discipline is decided by the police chief alone.

Dixon's slim personnel file with the department contains no blemishes. Supervisors noted his strength in investigative techniques, and rated him acceptable in all areas, including when it came to the operation and care of his police vehicle.

Dixon's attorney, Joseph Ciarciaglino, could not be reached for comment.

In written remarks, Dixon repeatedly stated how much he enjoys being on the force.

"I really love working for this agency," he wrote.

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8643.

St. Petersburg police officer charged with hitting car, leaving 02/28/10 [Last modified: Sunday, February 28, 2010 9:37pm]
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