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Officer says he lied for fear of being fired

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

A Tampa police officer lied to his supervisor and a prosecutor to justify an arrest because he was afraid he would be fired, according to an Internal Affairs report released Monday.

The report, written by Capt. Delores Morrill, said Officer Joseph Perrone "intentionally falsified statements and documents" in an attempt to justify a possession charge against a man found with eight pieces of crack cocaine in an illegal search.

Perrone still could lose his job if police Chief Bennie Holder decides the punishment is justified.

"When it is sustained that you have been untruthful, that is very serious," Tampa police spokesman Steve Cole said Tuesday.

The report said Perrone and another officer responding to a call April 12 at the Cutlass Arms Apartments arrested Charles Wade for possession of a firearm and carrying a concealed weapon. After the officers put Wade in the car, they discovered the gun was a toy. At some point later, the officers discovered Wade was in possession of crack cocaine and arrested him on drug charges.

The State Attorney's Office dropped the weapons charges because of the toy gun. Police officials began an investigation to find out when the officers knew it was a toy. If it was before they found the cocaine, that would mean the cocaine arrest had to be thrown out.

Perrone told a state prosecutor and his supervisor he found the cocaine before arresting Wade on the false weapons charges, a move that would have made the arrest justifiable.

But the Internal Affairs investigation revealed that a Hillsborough sheriff's deputy found the cocaine while searching Wade at the county jail. When confronted later, Perrone admitted he lied and the possession charges were dropped, the report said.

The investigation found that Perrone "purposely tried to mislead the (investigation) in his first letter because he was scared he would be fired for false arrest," Morrill wrote.

Perrone, 31, was hired by the department in November 1989. His most recent annual evaluation in March, in which he received an excellent rating, described him as enthusiastic, dependable and knowledgeable about his job responsibilities.

"Officer Perrone is a very good officer, doing a very good job," Maj. Steve Hogue wrote.

The only previous infraction in Perrone's personnel file was a letter counseling him for being careless in a November traffic accident. He also was commended in 1993 for saving the life of a man who threatened to jump from an Interstate 275 overpass.

Cole said Holder will decided in the next two to three weeks what punishment Perrone will receive, which could range from a letter of counseling to losing his job.