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Brooksville Detective Shawn Terry stains Police Department's reputation

How do you get promoted at the Brooksville Police Department? • Lie under oath. Bring doubt on your personal integrity. Disparage the professionalism of the entire force with your behavior.

It worked for Shawn Terry, who got elevated to detective in October despite a record of professional conduct that included seven citizen complaints in his first 17 months with the department, as well as an episode in which he coerced a witness into making false statements and then was caught lying about it in a deposition. Terry's reputation is so tarnished by telling falsehoods that prosecutors are rightfully leery of his courtroom credibility.

Chief George Turner called Terry a "fine officer." Clearly, Turner's performance standards need adjusting. His praise insults other officers who do their jobs by the book absent abuse allegations and questions of perjury.

As Times staff writer John Frank reported last week, Terry's resume also includes more than a half-dozen years at the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, where over a 16-month period, one in seven people he arrested faced charges of obstruction, battery on a law officer or both. That is some record of productivity, more than doubling the number of resisting-arrest charges compiled by any of his peers in the department.

Allegations of excessive force, profane language, policy violations and reprimands became so common, Sheriff Richard Nugent said he was concerned about the number of citizen complaints directed at Terry. The concern was short lived. Nugent, as Chief Turner did five years later, promoted Terry to detective.

Terry rewarded the sheriff's faith by raising suspicions that he began a sexual relationship with a woman after arresting her ex-husband on allegations of molesting the couple's 6-year-old daughter. Terry denied the sexual relationship, declined to take a stress test for truthfulness and resigned amid pending internal investigations that later cast doubt on the woman's statements. He was cleared, but so was the woman's ex-husband, Ron Shelton, who is now suing the Sheriff's Office after spending 10 months in jail.

Terry wasn't out of a job, though — the Brooksville Police Department ignored the red flags and hired him. Providing a safe landing zone for Terry illustrated the dubious judgment of former Chief Ed Tincher. But, allowing the officer to remain on duty and then promoting him after his behavior in an October 2007 traffic-stop-turned-cocaine-possession arrest clouds Turner's leadership.

In that case, a video camera inside a patrol car recorded Terry badgering 19-year-old Jeffrey Stephens into implicating his cousin for cocaine possession after officers discovered a brick of cocaine in the pair's vehicle. In a sworn statement, Terry denied any role in threatening Stephens, coaching the driver's story or making him rewrite his statement to fit Terry's arrest needs. Authorities soon dropped the case and defense attorney Chip Mander reported a possible perjury charge against Terry.

The chief later reprimanded Terry, not for his behavior inside the patrol car with Stephens, but for failing to prepare properly for his deposition. In other words, no discussion of Terry's tactics, just a slap on the wrist for not being a better liar. The community deserves better from its public servants.

Terry's recent promotion also indicates a department willing to forgive and forget. Unfortunately, that characteristic will not be shared by officers of the court. Terry's record gives defense attorneys ample ammunition to cast doubt on all the cases in which he comes into contact. The chief of police shouldn't allow that to happen.

Brooksville Detective Shawn Terry stains Police Department's reputation 11/28/09 [Last modified: Saturday, November 28, 2009 9:59am]
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