The Florida Highway Patrol now concedes its investigation of Kevin McGinley's 1998 death along Interstate 275 had shortcomings and errors. But its conclusion last week that the investigation nevertheless had the right outcome and should be closed provides a compelling reason for Gov. Charlie Crist to initiate an objective third-party inquiry. Law enforcement wields extraordinary power in our society. When mistakes are made that point to systemic problems, law enforcement must be held accountable and make changes.
McGinley died Feb. 13, 1998, on I-275 in Tampa. He and a friend were partying in an Ybor City club and exchanged words with men in another car as they left the club. Minutes later, both cars pulled onto the side of I-275 and the men began fighting. Somehow, McGinley, 21, ended up in the traffic lane and was hit by a United Parcel Service 18-wheeler.
The original FHP investigator, Cpl. Dennis Jetton, concluded that McGinley likely was sideswiped by a passing car and then stumbled in front of the truck. McGinley's parents, Hugh and Jill McGinley of Indian Shores, believe he was pushed during the fight and that someone got away with a crime because of Jetton's shoddy work. The McGinleys have filed a lawsuit against FHP and the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office.
Ten years after McGinley's death, continuing allegations by McGinley's family prompted FHP to launch an internal review of the case. The 76-page report released last week raises questions about the competence of Jetton and the FHP. It appears to contradict the findings of an earlier review by multiple agencies that everything that could have been done was done in the McGinley case.
Jetton, who has now retired, didn't listen to 911 calls from witnesses passing by the accident scene, never proved his theory that another vehicle sideswiped McGinley, failed to interview relevant witnesses and wrote a flawed report, among other things. The FHP review also found Jetton's supervisor withheld public records from the McGinley family for a year. That revelation does little to instill confidence in a state law enforcement agency.
The FHP review was an administrative exercise and does not propose any further action. It does not call for procedural changes or discipline. It does not acknowledge the FHP's duty to deliver thorough investigations free of such gaping holes. It does not raise concerns about a chain of command that allowed such sloppiness and lack of transparency. It's time the governor asked a third party to find some answers.