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Fired Brooksville officer seeks his job back, says investigator broke state law

BROOKSVILLE — A controversial Brooksville police officer who was fired last year wants his job back.

Former Officer Terry Elliott filed a petition for injunctive relief Friday against the city of Brooksville, alleging that the Police Department violated state law during an internal affairs investigation that led to his firing.

The petition asks a judge to find the investigation void because it breached the so-called Police Officer's Bill of Rights. It points the finger at the investigator, Brooksville Detective John Messer, saying he broke the law by failing to:

• Provide Elliott with full statements from witnesses prior to the investigative interview; Messer provided only summary statements.

• Document several other witness statements during the investigation.

• Disclose the existence of audio recordings and allow Elliott to review them.

• Give Elliott notice that there were five pending investigations, not three.

"They need to go back and do the investigation properly," Elliott's attorney, Kenneth Afienko of St. Petersburg, said Tuesday. "They were so illegal in this case it wasn't funny."

If done properly, Elliott's petition asserts, "the outcome of the investigation would have been different."

Brooksville city officials were not aware of Elliott's petition when asked for comment Tuesday. But City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha contends that the Police Department followed the law.

"I believe we were in full conformance with the Police Officer's Bill of Rights," she said.

Elliott, a five-year veteran, was fired May 29 by interim police Chief Frank Ross for a series of policy violations.

On appeal, the city manager upheld the decision in November.

The firing ended a long saga in which Elliott ran afoul of department standards more than a dozen times. He was suspended three times and twice supervisors recommended firing him. It is unclear why former police Chief Ed Tincher did not act on those recommendations.

In the termination letter to Elliott, Ross wrote, "It is in the city's best interests to dismiss you from your employment."

The three main reasons cited by Ross included an internal investigation that found Elliott broke department policy when he discussed an open internal investigation, repeatedly missed court dates, and called a city dispatcher a "stupid b----" in front of other officers.

Elliott denied the latter charge, saying he didn't recall saying those words, but an audiotape confirmed it. Afienko said Elliott was fired for being untruthful, but that argument would be negated if his client were to listen to the tape and refresh his memory.

In the five-page court filing, Elliott said he cannot find another job with a law enforcement agency or company because his personnel file labels him a liar.

Afienko, who specializes in this area of the law as counsel to the area Fraternal Order of Police, said his client was unfairly punished and the detective who violated the state law was never sanctioned.

He said these types of practices will only continue at the Police Department unless a judge orders them otherwise.

"Our intent is to expose them," Afienko said.

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

Fired Brooksville officer seeks his job back, says investigator broke state law 04/01/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 7, 2008 5:42pm]
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