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DARKENED WINDOWS LEAD TO JAIL

A man is charged with posing as an officer after a traffic stop.

The uniformed man stepped out of his vehicle, dashboard light spinning, strobe lights flashing.

Tampa police Officer Stephen Hiles might have mistaken him for a fellow law enforcement officer, but the dark-haired stranger was driving a Toyota Camry with what appeared to be illegally tinted windows, police said.

Joseph M. Ramos, 43, of 7405 Sherren Drive in Tampa, didn't budge when Hiles first ordered him to get back in his car, police said.

After several commands, Ramos complied.

But when Hiles saw the man reach for a gun on the front passenger seat, he pulled his own police-issued weapon and ordered Ramos to halt.

Hiles arrested Ramos and charged him with impersonating an officer. And judging from the contents of his car, police said, it's no wonder.

Besides the flashing lights and black, police-like uniform, Ramos had a badge, a nightstick, a gun belt, handcuff keys, four Taser guns, a 16-ounce can of pepper spray, blank official Tampa Police trespass warnings, a Neighborhood Watch book, a loaded .410-caliber shotgun and three pellet guns, police said.

But ask Michael Gari of Tampa's Gari Security Services, and all but the gun is justified.

Ramos is, after all, a security guard.

"The badges and everything else were for security," Gari said. "Don't bash this guy."

Gari said Ramos, who has worked for Gari Security on and off for a year, is a trained guard, licensed to carry non-lethal weapons like batons, mace and stun guns. State records show he has no criminal history.

Stop any security guard, he said, and you're likely to find the same tools. Gari said police regularly pass along such things as blank trespass warnings for security guards to use, and anyone can have a Neighborhood Watch book.

"A good analogy is this," responded TPD spokeswoman Andrea Davis. "It's not illegal for someone to have gloves and a ski mask, but if they have gloves and a ski mask and other burglary tools, that is illegal."

It's the combination of things, she said.

But here's what Davis said was the clincher: Ramos is restricted by court order from carrying a weapon due to a domestic violence injunction.

"He can't have a gun," Davis said. Friday's charges included that violation.

Add the fact that Ramos was not working for Gari Security just before 2 p.m. Friday, when Hiles first pulled him over at W Columbus Drive and N Lincoln Avenue on a traffic stop spurred by the tinted windows, police said, and detectives had lots of questions.

Davis said Ramos wasn't giving any answers. "The only things out of his mouth were four-letter words," she said.

Gari said it is against policy for his employees to wear their uniforms while off duty. But he suggested Ramos had been working another job during the day and may have been wearing the clothing in preparation for a pending weekend shift.

Nereida Ortiz, who turns 43 Sunday, said she's not surprised.

She married Ramos 19 years ago, filed a domestic injunction against him two years ago and only sees him these days in court for divorce proceedings and custody issues involving their 8-year-old daughter.

Ortiz said Ramos has long been fascinated by cops, collecting gadgets, flashing his security badge to cars on the highway, in restaurants, at theme parks. "He's always had the belief that the law is the only way to earn that respect," Ortiz said. "He wants to feel important. He wants to live something he's not."

TPD Sgt. Eric Diaz said the line between police and security guards often blurs. Guards are first responders; police detain and arrest.

"Who usually blurs the line," he said, "is that security person - they want to go that one step further, but the laws don't allow them."

Ramos, was booked into the Orient Road Jail, where he is being held without bail.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

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