Sunday, April 22, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Sheriff's actions on right to counsel troubling

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is unconvincing in its explanation of why it went to extraordinary lengths to keep a suspected killer from seeing an attorney and ignored his constitutional right to legal counsel. Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente will rule on the admissibility of Edward Covington's confession before he consulted a public defender, but the circumstances are troubling and should be independently reviewed.

A report by the Tampa Bay Times' Peter Jamison shows how the obstructive tactics by the Sheriff's Office are coming back to complicate the prosecution of one of the area's grisliest crimes. In May 2008, authorities found the mutilated bodies of 26-year-old Lisa Freiberg and her two children, ages 2 and 7, in a Lutz mobile home. Deputies found her boyfriend, Covington, hiding in a closet, disoriented and his feet wet with blood.

A deputy read Covington his Miranda rights while another handcuffed him. A paramedic who examined Covington said he appeared "psychotic." He was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was registered under an alias and handcuffed to a bed, according to the Hillsborough Public Defender's Office. The next day, lawyers from the Public Defender's Office showed up at the hospital but deputies refused to let them into Covington's room or even to tell him the lawyers were there.

In depositions and testimony, authorities said Covington was not under arrest at the time but "detained" as a person of interest while doctors evaluated him. That doesn't answer why a deputy already had read Covington the Miranda warning, or why deputies were stationed at his hospital room, or why he was handcuffed to a bed and unable to leave. Two days after Covington was taken into custody, Public Defender Julianne Holt wrote Sheriff David Gee and State Attorney Mark Ober, informing them of her interest in providing Covington with legal advice. "Whether or not Mr. Covington (has) been formally 'arrested,' " she wrote, "he is clearly in your custody."

Covington clearly was in state custody, but it wasn't until after he provided detectives with a confession that officials told him that public defenders were at the Sheriff's Office waiting to see him. Playing word games over when Covington was arrested ignores that he had already lost his freedom of movement and communication. And as Holt noted, the right to counsel also carries an expectation that legal services be made available "as soon as feasible after custodial restraint."

Prosecutors said Covington's rights were not violated. Fuente will hear additional arguments in March. However he rules on the confession, the Sheriff's Office and prosecutors should ensure that officers comply with the spirit of this constitutional right. Anything less sets a dangerous precedent that jeopardizes both justice and public safety.

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Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18
Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

A bipartisan Senate bill clarifying that only the attorney general or a high-ranking designee could remove a special prosecutor would send an important message amid President Donald Trump’s attacks on the investigation into Russia’s inter...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18