Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Public safety

Review of Tampa police DUI cases finds no major problems, brings changes

TAMPA — A year after the Tampa Police Department was implicated in the setup DUI arrest of a Tampa lawyer, police Chief Jane Castor announced sweeping changes Thursday.

Among them is a promise that the department's DUI officers will conduct more thorough investigations and not rely on canned statements, such as "the driver had glassy eyes," "slurred speech" or "the odor of alcohol."

"The officers tended to oversimplify," Castor said.

Many ideas came from a six-person team of local law enforcement and attorneys, which spent nearly four months reviewing all open cases of the two Tampa officers involved in the scandal, as well as about 50 other cases.

They announced their findings on the one-year anniversary of the arrest of lawyer C. Philip Campbell, which prosecutors later concluded was a setup involving a rival law firm.

In an 11-page summary, the review team found some individual examples of "poor practice" in a small number of Tampa police DUI cases. Still, they found that in most arrests, the agency conducted quality investigations that can stand up in court.

"We found no evidence of inappropriate targeted or selective enforcement and we discovered no 'red flags' that would suggest any other substantial failure in the practices of TPD," the report stated.

The review team included Circuit Judge Barbara Fleischer and Nick Cox, a statewide prosecutor and former director of the Florida Department of Children and Families, who said the group still found ways the agency could improve.

High on its list: DUI officers should conduct deeper investigations, interviewing witnesses and car passengers. In addition, the agency is making the following changes:

• All officers will complete a DUI training course online.

• Three supervisors will review each DUI report.

• DUI officers will consider using additional field sobriety tests, including the finger-to-nose test, the Romberg alphabet — a plain, straightforward recitation — and the counting test.

• DUI officers should video record all their interactions with a driver, not just the field sobriety test.

• The DUI supervisor now has an in-car camera, like the officers.

• Officers will include a suspect's blood-alcohol content on the arrest report.

• The department will have bimonthly meetings with the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office to discuss best practices, investigations and court cases.

The review team did not weigh in on the issue of police taking tips from friends. It was a noticeable omission and one that Campbell's attorney, John Fitzgibbons, called "disappointing" because it was one of the problems at the heart of Campbell's arrest.

On Jan. 23, 2013, Tampa police DUI supervisor Sgt. Ray Fernandez took a tip from his close friend Adam Filthaut, an attorney at the firm of Adams & Diaco, which was opposing Campbell in court that week. The pair's phone conversations and more than 90 text messages were part of an elaborate web of communication that prosecutors say make it obvious that the Adams & Diaco attorneys orchestrated Campbell's arrest.

Cox said the group did not note any conflicts of interest in the 70 cases they reviewed. Most DUI arrests were officer-initiated or stemmed from traffic crashes, he said.

Police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said Fernandez broke an existing department policy stating that employees "shall not use police authority to resolve personal matters, nor the matters of friends." Fernandez, who has since been fired, should have notified a supervisor, as the policy instructed, she said.

The department's DUI practices were questioned not only because of Campbell's arrest. In February, Fernandez was involved in the arrest of Cuban trade advocate Al Fox, 69, on a DUI charge that did not stick. Fox had a 0.00 blood-alcohol level.

Fitzgibbons called last year for an independent review of the DUI unit, criticizing Castor and Mayor Bob Buckhorn for not taking action. The chief later announced the decentralization of the DUI unit, which she said would provide more oversight. Fernandez was fired and the other officer involved in Campbell's arrest, Tim McGinnis, was moved from DUI work.

On Thursday, Fitzgibbons said that while he wished the DUI review team had looked at more cases, including older ones, he is encouraged by the changes TPD has made. "They were clearly much-needed," he said.

The DUI unit will also have some fresh faces this year. Six of the unit's 12 officers got different assignments as part of the agency's annual rotations. That means six new officers started on the unit this week.

McElroy said the group is eager to adopt the changes. Castor said the unit, as a whole, is "revitalized."

Times staff writers Sue Carlton and Dan Sullivan contributed to this report.

   
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