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Arrested Tampa detective’s errors were not crimes, says defense attorney

Defense attorney Richard Escobar said his client received scant training and worked in a “toxic” environment. Tampa police officials deny his allegations.
Defense attorney Richard Escobar speaks on behalf of his client, Jarda Bradford, during a news conference at his law office Wednesday.
Defense attorney Richard Escobar speaks on behalf of his client, Jarda Bradford, during a news conference at his law office Wednesday. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Dec. 17, 2020
Updated Dec. 18, 2020

TAMPA — Defense attorney Richard Escobar said Thursday he’s confident that his newest client, suspended Tampa police Detective Jarda Bradford, will be cleared of felony charges that she tampered with evidence.

The attorney said the detective made procedural errors — but did not break the law.

Then he leveled charges of his own: Escobar said the Tampa Police Department gave Bradford just 20 minutes of training in her new role as a detective and she had to work in a “toxic” environment that has led six detectives in her division to leave in three months.

“Mistakes were made,” Escobar said. “But it’s the reason for those mistakes that I think is so crucial and important. I am hopeful that, along with exoneration, we expose things in this community that people are going to be shocked at.”

Tampa police officials deny the attorney’s allegations, and Police Chief Brian Dugan says Braford did more than make mistakes. The 38-year-old detective was arrested Tuesday on two counts of tampering with physical evidence in an attempted murder investigation.

The chief said the detective failed to mask earrings in a photo lineup she assembled before showing it to witnesses, violating procedures that call for “overly suggestive details” to be removed from photos shown to witnesses. When the error was pointed out to her, Dugan said, she altered the photos after the fact and submitted them as evidence in the case, hence the two charges.

Dugan held a news conference that day to announce her arrest. She was suspended without pay and the police department has started the process of firing her. She attended her attorney’s news conference on Thursday but did not speak.

Related: Tampa police detective faces charges of tampering with evidence

Tampa police spokesman Eddy Durkin denied those allegations in a statement Thursday. He also offered new details about the allegations against Bradford, saying she also forged the initials of another witness on a second photo lineup.

“Her actions, not only being criminal, have placed the successful prosecution of an attempted murder suspect in jeopardy,” Durkin said. “There was a procedural error that was followed by criminal tampering of evidence. Both the (Hillsborough) State Attorney and a judge agreed and signed off on the charges being appropriate.”

But Escobar, who held his own news conference Thursday, denied the allegations against Bradford and said police officials aren’t telling the whole story.

“We will have our day in court,” he said. “But, unfortunately, we had to come to you today to air out issues that are important for the general public to understand.”

Bradford has spent 15 years in law enforcement and became a detective 2½ months ago.

“When you get elevated into a detective division you get no training,” said Escobar, citing past testimony by detectives. “My client received absolutely no training. And then she was assigned to investigate a serious crime — an attempted first-degree homicide — with no training.”

Durkin disputed the attorney’s claim, saying: “There is an established policy that is reviewed as well as a Florida State Statute on photo pack training.” Her training was completed on Aug. 10, he said.

Escobar also said his client was forced to work for a supervisor in a “toxic” and “coercive” work environment. He said other six detectives who worked for the same supervisor left her department from July to October.

Durkin said in a statement that one detective was promoted and the others accepted other assignments. None of the six resigned, the spokesman said.

“You have enough pressure as a detective going day in and day out,” Escobar said. “You have those pressures and then you have to go into the office and face the chaos that is so rampant that six detectives left the unit. There is no doubt that she was intimidated every day she went into that office.”

Using Dugan’s words from Tuesday, Escobar reiterated that Bradford’s mistakes were a part of a “procedural error” — but one that did not alter physical evidence. The errors were made after a suspect had already been arrested, the attorney said, in part because of a photo lineup that Bradford created properly. Tampa police officials have released no details about the Oct. 17 shooting and investigation that led to the detective’s suspension and arrest.

Escobar also criticized the department’s lack of diversity, saying not enough Black officers serve in a city that is 24 percent Black, according to the U.S. Census. And the attorney called out Dugan.

“Is he really a chief that has been involved with the African American community as he should,” said Escobar. “I don’t want to say that (Tampa police), by any stretch of the imagination, acted in a way that is racially motivated. But I question why we don’t have more African American police officers in this community.”

Escobar also criticized the chief for rejecting his request to meet before Tuesday’s arrest and the chief’s news conference. The attorney said he had hoped to go over case law with Dugan, and accused the chief of trying to make himself look good at Bradford’s expense.

“There are some wonderful officers at TPD,” said Escobar, “but we have a serious problem at the top.”