Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

For some Pinellas deputies, shoe leather turns into crossing the line

When it comes to cops making cases, you have to admire good old-fashioned shoe leather, the kind that sharp detectives use to work a crime from all angles and come up with creative ways to catch the bad guys.

But when shoe leather turns into crossing the line, an arrest can't justify everything police did to get there.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has an in-house mess of epic proportions on his hands with what defense lawyers say was a rogue narcotics unit trying to root out marijuana grow houses. (I guess it's good news that in Pinellas County, life was so free of serious drug-related crime involving meth or heroin or prescription drug abuse or overdoses that they could focus on the scourge that was pot growers. But anyway.)

Investigation upon investigation is pending, but already we know enough details to raise eyebrows — like the Progress Energy employee who secretly supplied detectives with information on hydroponic store customers with high power bills, a potential clue to a marijuana growing operation. Or the creepy scenario of a detective disguising himself in a Progress Energy uniform to try to get to the door of a house for a whiff of the distinct smell of marijuana — a smell used to justify search warrants.

More to raise the eyebrows? A neighbor of a man charged with growing pot said she found concrete blocks stacked into a makeshift staircase at the fence between their houses. There's also the deputy who erased a resident's own surveillance recordings, saying he did it because they showed undercover cops' faces, not because it was evidence of police trespassing. Then there's the deputy who refused to answer in a deposition whether he had seen two narcotics detectives climb over fences, or trespass.

Which, by the way, is potentially a crime.

But if they make a bust, hey, why should we care how they got there?

Me, I like rules in place to keep things honest all the way around. Police have an amazing amount of power, and those rules are there to govern it with requirements like obtaining legal search warrants signed by actual judges and following department regulations and protocols. The rules protect me, you and the bad guys, too.

It gets dangerous if rules become mere suggestions, if they are ignored or even scampered over with impunity, like, say, a 7-foot fence that stands between a cop and the private property he wants to enter to find evidence.

If there is any good news in this graphic view we are getting into how sausage gets made, maybe it's that Sheriff Gualtieri is making the right noises and not hiding behind the old reliable "pending investigation" to avoid comment on in-house ugliness. Because how our law enforcement officers conduct themselves matters.

If detectives committed a crime in trying to get evidence, the sheriff told the Times' Stephen Nohlgren, "They are done."

Gualtieri, who has only been top man in the department for a few months and faces a big election against the big-name former Sheriff Everett Rice, faces some fair and pointed questions himself, since he was second-in-command as this played out.

And so court cases and careers are in jeopardy. Potentially something else, too: Our daily faith in the police.

Why does it matter if they followed the rules when they went after the bad guys? Because next time, the property line that gets crossed could be your own.

For some Pinellas deputies, shoe leather turns into crossing the line 03/20/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 7:23pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn proposes $974 million budget for 2018

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Mayor Bob Buckhorn today proposed a $974.2 million budget for next year that would raise the city's property tax rate for the first time since 1989 and use the additional revenue to improve parks, expand fire service and prepare for looming financial challenges in the years ahead.

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn presented his proposed $974.2 million budget for 2018 to the City Council on Thursday. RICHARD DANIELSON | Times (2016)
  2. A second chance at life, away from the game he loved

    The Heater

    Dylan Delso, a catcher for the Tampa Bay Rays' Gulf Coast League team, displays his scar at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla., on Tuesday, June 20, 2017. On June 25, 2016 Delso fell backward down a flight of stairs, suffering a nearly fatal head injury that put him in a coma for eight days. He's finally back on the baseball field after a miraculous recovery.
  3. Florida house where O.J. Simpson lived listed for $1.3 million

    Crime

    MIAMI — What happened to the Florida home where O.J. Simpson lived with his children after his acquittal in the death of his ex-wife and her friend?

    O.J. Simpson explains his golf scoring to his daughter, Sydney, as he played golf on Key Biscayne in Miami in 1997. The house south of Miami where Simpson lived with Sydney and his son, Justin, until his 2008 conviction in an armed robbery involving two sports memorabilia dealers in Las Vegas, is on the market. [AP photo]
  4. Behind the lens: To capture an exhilarating moment, it's better to be lucky AND good

    Travel

    Editor's note: Boyzell Hosey, our Assistant Managing Editor - Photography/Multimedia, shot this image while on a family vacation in Alaska. Below is his description of the shot.

  5. Council candidate James Scott sees a green future for St. Petersburg

    Local Government

    Times Staff Writer

    ST. PETERSBURG — James Scott's central tenet is sustainability.

    St. Petersburg City Council District 6 candidate James Scott. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |   TIMES]