Saturday, February 24, 2018
Public safety

Tampa police officers fired for hanging out at strip club on duty

TAMPA — Two undercover Tampa police officers pulled up under the blue neon lights of the Penthouse strip club.

It was Nov. 9, three hours before their shift and they were in undercover uniforms. Each ordered a drink.

But according to a Tampa Police Department internal investigation, the pair kept ordering drinks to the point of obvious intoxication — staying at the club four hours into their shift.

When a supervisor called to ask where they were, Master Police Officer Paul Madsen answered: "You don't want to know."

On Friday, the Police Department fired Officers Madsen and Antonio Ortega, wrapping up a seven-month-long investigation that police Chief Jane Castor said was "very embarrassing to me personally."

"The citizens deserve better," she said at a news conference.

The department also suspended two supervisors for one day each, saying they delayed reporting of the pair's misdeeds.

According to the investigation, this is what happened that Friday in November:

Early in the afternoon, Ortega and Madsen finished their drinks, then accepted one from the club's management, which had asked the officers to move inside the restaurant portion of the building, at 1801 N West Shore Blvd.

About 4:30 p.m., Madsen logged the pair in to work remotely from his computer. They were on the Rapid Offender Control squad, meaning they wore plainclothes, drove unmarked cars and quickly responded to violent and in-progress crimes. But instead of working the streets, they kept drinking. Four hours into their shift, police Cpl. Joseph Clark called Madsen.

Madsen eventually told his supervisor that he was at the Penthouse Club, and Clark then told shift commander Sgt. Rick Ubinas.

Ubinas tried to call both men, but neither answered, so he sent Clark to the club because he was in plainclothes.

With two drunk cops, discretion, he decided, was key.

Clark found the two officers, who appeared "highly intoxicated," according to the internal investigation. But instead of taking them back to the Police Department and starting the investigation, he let the pair go home with a friend.

Clark later said he did it to abate Madsen's aggression, but it caused investigators to not be able to get the pair's blood-alcohol level.

The supervisors told others in the department after the weekend, Chief Castor said. It does not appear they were trying to cover up anything, she said.

Both Ortega and Madsen were transferred to administrative duties while the internal affairs detectives reviewed the incident.

They were fired at noon Friday.

Ortega, 41, was a 10-year veteran who had never had a major disciplinary issue, Castor said.

However, the city of Tampa did settle a lawsuit involving him in 2011, paying $35,000 to a man Ortega shot with a stun gun during a police incident.

The man fell face-first on concrete after Ortega confronted him when he exited a home on Christmas Eve 2005 while holding a beer. The man said he did not attempt to run but simply did not understand Ortega's requests, which were in English.

Madsen, 45, was a 23-year veteran. Of his record, Castor answered, "He hasn't had an unblemished career."

In 1991, he got in trouble for harassing his girlfriend's estranged husband and for using a racial slur when speaking to the man.

About the Penthouse incident, the men were very remorseful and embarrassed, Castor said. Then why did they do it? a reporter asked the chief. "I don't know that you could come up with a good reason," she said.

Times news researcher John Martin and staff writer Will Hobson contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected].

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