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Too little, too late for Shawn Terry, the tainted former Brooksville police detective

An ex-police officer is unemployed, a suspected drug dealer is free and state prosecutors are reviewing files to see if a disgraced detective tainted other criminal cases with his inability to tell the truth under oath.

That is the fallout of the arrest last week of former Brooksville Detective Shawn Terry on perjury charges – an embarrassing episode that could have been avoided had his former superiors done a better job of screening applicants or riding herd over a problematic employee suspected of being a serial fabricator.

Instead, the State Attorney's Office had to drop sale and possession of cocaine charges against 49-year-old Jerome Scrivens Jr. because prosecutors believed Terry lied under oath during a June 3 deposition about how he recruited a police informant. Authorities also suspected Terry encouraged the informant to give false testimony.

Sadly, the charges against Terry came as little surprise, given his proclivity toward bending the rules and spouting falsehoods. Terry came to the city police department after his departure from the Hernando Sheriff's Office in 2006 amid an internal investigation into his relationship with a woman whose husband he had arrested on allegations of molesting the couple's 6-year-old daughter.

His half-dozen years at the Sheriff's Office included a 16-month period in which one in seven people he arrested faced charges of obstruction, battery on a law officer or both – more than double the number of resisting arrest charges filed by any of his peers in the department.

Brooksville Police provided a safe landing zone anyway, a hiring that came under the command of former Chief Ed Tincher. But the current administration allowed Terry to stick around and even promoted him to detective. For that, Chief George Turner must be answerable.

Terry made detective even though he had gained notoriety for his behavior in a October 2007 traffic-stop-turned-cocaine possession arrest. At the time, 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 what turned out to be a preview of the charge against Scrivens, authorities had to dismiss the 2007 case after Terry's sworn statement contradicted the recorded conversation. Under oath, Terry denied any role in threatening Stephens, coaching the driver's story or making him rewrite his statement to fit Terry's arrest needs.

Terry was reprimanded for not properly preparing for his deposition – a dubious punishment that failed to make the officer account for his actions inside the patrol car. It's akin to telling him to become a better liar.

That didn't work either.

"When one of your key witnesses testifies falsely about some material element of the case, you can't hardly go forward and ask the jury to believe the witness when it comes to other elements of the offense,'' Assistant State Attorney Ric Ridgway said last week.

In other words, once a liar, always a liar, according to the rules of law. Getting Terry off the streets was long overdue. Resigning from the Brooksville Police Department may have been one of Shawn Terry's few honorable acts as an officer.

Too little, too late for Shawn Terry, the tainted former Brooksville police detective 07/24/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 23, 2010 9:07pm]
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