TAMPA — Hillsborough County officials fired a Fire Rescue medic Tuesday after an internal investigation concluded he had "unwavering loyalty" to the Outlaws Motorcycle Club — the state’s dominant biker gang.
Clinton Neal Walker, 33, of Bradenton is the first Hillsborough County employee to be investigated for gang activity under a series of countywide ordinances sparked by Walker’s own arrest last September over starting a bar fight in Key West. The fight came just three months after he was placed on administrative leave for joining another bar brawl in May 2016, this time in St. Petersburg with a city police officer.
The ordinances prohibit county employees from gaining membership in any organization the state or federal government considers criminal, including the Outlaws St. Petersburg Chapter, where Walker remains an active member.
Walker has been on paid administrative leave since his supervisors learned of his arrest in September, said department spokesman Corey Dierdorff. He has 10 days to appeal his involuntary dismissal to the county’s Civil Service Board.
The county’s investigative report shows Walker has a history of HR investigations into job misconduct dating back to October 2008, when he showed up to work about 45 minutes late with no explanation. Among the more serious accusations in the report: paid suspensions for carrying an illegal firearm while off duty; withholding evidence from sheriff’s deputies that tied the Outlaws to a shooting last July; and, last November, using his employment as a county firefighter to avoid getting arrested after arguing with a clerk at the Manatee County Tax Collector’s Office and with responding sheriff’s deputies.
The investigative report that resulted in Walker’s firing noted that he already was serving a 240-hour suspension for his Key West arrest when he dressed in his fire rescue uniform on July 25 to fraudulently collect evidence from a fellow gang member involved in a shooting.
A responding EMT had called Walker to tell him that the president of the Outlaws St. Petersburg Chapter, James Costa, was shot while riding his motorcycle on U.S. Highway 41 in south Hillsborough. Costa also worked for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue until retiring as a fire captain in 2016 following media reports that publicized his ties to the gang.
Though he wasn’t on duty, Walker met fire rescue crews at the scene of the shooting, jumped into the back of Costa’s ambulance and changed into his Fire Rescue uniform while accompanying Costa to the hospital, the report said. Walker never offered to help the responding rescue crews. Instead he took Costa’s belongings, including his motorcycle vest with the Outlaws Motorcycle Club patch and insignia, and hid them in his car, the report said.
"Mr. Walker would not have been able to take possession of the OMC patch and insignias if he was considered an outsider, especially since numerous OMC members were at the hospital that night," wrote James Orr, a former FBI agent who did the investigation. " .?.?. In response, Mr. Walker would state that he was acting as a friend, taking Mr. Costa’s property for safekeeping to release it to his wife."
Walker initially refused to provide the vest to sheriff’s deputies even when told it needed to be processed as evidence in a felony case, the report said. Walker only surrendered the vest when a Manatee County sheriff’s corporal agreed to simply photograph it and then turn it over to Costa’s wife, the report said.
Deputies told Orr that Walker was joined by about 10 known Outlaw members at the hospital and joined them in repeated attempts at pressuring deputies to turn over Costa’s belt, which had OMC insignia on its buckle and imprinted on the leather.
"Mr. Walker wore his uniform to gain unauthorized access and he utilized his position as a uniformed firefighter for personal reasons/gain," the report said.
The Sheriff’s Office has yet to finish its investigation into Costa’s shooting.
Walker still faces one pending criminal misdemeanor charge for injuring two employees at the Key West bar.
Contact Anastasia Dawson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.