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Wearer's intent at heart of "sheriff' T-shirt trial

Pinellas sheriff's Deputy Jerry Davis said it all started with a lie.

He saw Kimberly Sult walking into a St. Petersburg convenience store wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the sheriff's emblem and one word across the front in 5-inch letters: Sheriff.

He followed her into the store and said he asked her, "Do you work for us?"

Davis said Sult, 24, told him yes and she opened her wallet and showed him a sheriff's employee identification. To Davis, the ID was lie No. 2. He said he soon learned the truth: Sult didn't work there.

Tuesday, testimony opened in Sult's trial on a misdemeanor charge that she wore or displayed items _ a T-shirt and old ID _ that could fool someone into thinking she worked for law enforcement. The trial is expected to conclude today with closing arguments and jury deliberations.

Sult, a former civilian detention employee who prosecutors say was fired by the sheriff in late 1999, says she wasn't trying to fool anyone June 14 when Davis and another officer noticed her.

Sult said the officer's question was in the past tense: Had she worked for the Sheriff's Office?

Sult's friend, Jeanie Martin, 17, who went into the store with her, testified that she heard the deputy ask Sult, "Do you work for us?"

Then she acknowledged that she couldn't be sure in which tense the question had been posed.

Sult testified that she bought the T-shirt at a uniform store where anybody can buy items. It was never standard sheriff's issue, she said.

"I walked in without any identification and purchased it," she said.

Sult said she kept her old ID after leaving the Sheriff's Office, throwing it in her wallet and forgetting about it.

"I don't usually flash my wallet anywhere," she said, noting she only produced the ID to show Davis that she formerly worked at the Sheriff's Office.

"You never know what you might need it for," she told jurors.

Then prosecutor Lydia Wardell asked, "What possible purpose might you need that for other than to make someone think you worked for law enforcement?"

"I never used that for anything," Sult said.

Defense attorney John Trevena said the ID badge is something all sheriff's employees have. Sworn officers have a separate badge and ID that looks nothing like the civilian ID that Sult had, he said.

With Sult wearing shorts and sandals, nobody could be fooled into thinking she was a deputy, Trevena said. "This case is an incredible waste of taxpayers' money," he said.