Dunnellon police Chief E. W. McCracken has for years routinely voided traffic tickets for his friends and prominent town residents, according to police records and statements from former and current Dunnellon police officers.
Department records show McCracken voided 19 traffic tickets, some of which required mandatory court appearances, during his nine years as Dunnellon police chief.
"People who know people in town can get things done," said Dunnellon Officer Luis Aran. "Sometimes you write a ticket and later on you'll find out it was the daughter of a businessman.
"In the past (McCracken) has come to me and asked me to void tickets if it's a local person that requests a favor from the chief or if it's somebody related to somebody else or if it's a political favor," he said.
Aran, who has served in the department for eight years, said McCracken began asking him to void tickets around 1986. Five of the 19 voided tickets obtained by the Times were written by Aran.
"The chief would call me in and ask me about the stop, and he would always ask me if the person was nasty because if the person was nasty, he would not void the ticket," Aran said. "He'd always ask my opinion as to whether it would be all right to "do this guy a favor' or "give him a break.'
"I would always put the situation back in his hands. I would say, "It's up to you, chief.' " Aran said. "It wasn't that often. I would get called in maybe three or four times a year. It wasn't every week or anything."
McCracken would not comment on the 19 voided tickets, citing an ongoing internal investigation that he says involves the tickets.
McCracken also would not comment on statements made by the two former officers and two current Dunnellon police officers that he routinely voided their tickets without their knowledge and on several occasions, asked them to void tickets as a favor to his friends.
"I wouldn't even dignify those questions with an answer," McCracken said in a recent interview. After being shown copies of the 19 voided tickets, which are signed with his handwriting, McCracken replied, "I don't know any of these people. Not by a long shot."
The revelation is the latest in a series of troubling events in the Dunnellon Police Department. Concern about the department's declining public credibility and decaying morale led the Town Council late last month to hire Orlando-based private investigators to examine policies and practices in the PoliceDepartment.
McCracken recently admitted that he knowingly submitted a job referral containing incorrect information to Marion County sheriff's officials and lied to Florida Department of Law Enforcement officials about the circumstances surrounding the dismissal of former Dunnellon reserve officer Darren Duane Barbree.
Barbree was fired from the Dunnellon Police Department on Aug. 2, 1991, after he pawned two city-issue pistols, but McCracken told the FDLE and the Marion County Sheriff's Office that Barbree resigned voluntarily and was eligible to be rehired in Dunnellon.
Four officers have been fired by McCracken and the Town Council since August. Officer Aran recently told council members that he fears he will be fired by McCracken because of racial and ethnic discrimination.
Records show McCracken voided tickets that were issued to relatives of current and former city officials, members of families who own or owned businesses in Dunnellon and other Dunnellon residents.
Department of Motor Vehicle records show that none of the voided traffic violations are reflected on the driving records of the people who were cited. Five of the voided traffic tickets were for criminal offenses, which required mandatory court appearances.
McCracken voided a ticket issued to James Kelly, son of former council member Barbara Kelly, who was cited for driving with a suspended license Jan. 17, 1992.
McCracken also voided a ticket written to Andrew Dickson, son of former council member Shirley Dickson, who was cited on Dec. 2, 1992, for no proof of insurance.
Fred Owens Jr., grandson of the late L. O. Robertson, a longtime council member who had a city park dedicated in his name, was also issued a ticket on Feb. 3, 1992, for failing to stop for a stop sign. His ticket was voided by McCracken.
Two of the voided tickets were written by former Dunnellon officer Eric Harden, who was fired by McCracken in May. Harden said in a recent interview that he never gave McCracken permission to void his tickets.
"They were voided without my knowledge," Harden said. "I don't believe in voiding tickets. If the average Joe on the street gets a ticket and has to pay, then everybody should be treated the same. It shows partiality and selective enforcement."
Other voided tickets were written by current Dunnellon officers Russell Howard, Christopher Evan and former Dunnellon officer Ian Hay, who was fired by McCracken in August 1992.
Evan declined to comment on the six tickets he wrote that were voided by McCracken. Howard and Hay said they did not ask McCracken to void their tickets, and the tickets were voided without their knowledge.
"I wasn't aware that the chief voided thetickets," said Howard who wrote three of the 19 voided tickets. "I don't void tickets. According to the law it's not legal, but what can you do? He's the boss."
According to Florida Statue 316.650, a traffic citation "may be disposed of only by trial in the court or other official action by a judge of the court. . . . It is unlawful and official misconduct for any traffic enforcement officer or other officer or public employee to dispose of a traffic citation."
Florida Highway Patrol Capt. Jack Carter said it is unusual for a supervisor with the FHP to void another officer's ticket. If there is a mistake on a ticket and it must be voided, the officer who wrote the ticket must void it with an explanation written on the ticket explaining why it was voided:
"I cannot dismiss one of my officer's tickets. If there is a reason why it must be voided, the officer must void the ticket himself. Under no circumstances are tickets voided unless there was a mistake on the ticket, or the ticket is damaged in some way."
Inverness police Chief Massey Cook and Crystal River police Chief Roger Krieger both say their department policy is consistent with the FHP's.
"My position on tickets is, once a traffic citation is written, the only way that can be changed is to go to court. I will not void a traffic citation," Cook said. "My interpretation of the law is the only one with the authority to void a ticket is the county judge."
Krieger said: "The police department issues tickets. The courts dispose of tickets. We don't cross that line. Our policy on voiding tickets is, we don't."
McCracken, a 37-year police veteran who retired as a captain after 27 years at the Miami Police Department, says his law enforcement record is unblemished. He said all of the recent controversy has been caused by disgruntled former employees who are seeking retaliation against him.
He said he is confident that the police department probe being conducted by Robert Connelly Jr., a former federal Secret Service agent who owns Connelly & Associates in Orlando, will resolve much of the turmoil.
"We used to have a successful operation, a team," he said recently. "However, a monkey wrench was thrown in the works. I hope we can get back to law enforcement soon. This stuff is ridiculous. I've never had this type of back stabbing and problems in my career _ my life.
"I've been here nine years with no problems and I've got one year left to get a 10-year retirement. Nobody has ever retired from the Dunnellon Police Department.
"There are some anti-chief people around here. The life span of a Dunnellon chief is about three years. The last chief before me lasted only four months. I think I've set a record as the longest-staying chief so far. I would make history if I could stay on another year."