Activist Al Fox notifies city of Tampa he's suing over DUI arrest

Published Jul. 16, 2013

TAMPA — Cuban affairs activist Al Fox has formally served notice that he intends to file a lawsuit against the city of Tampa, its Police Department and two officers over his February drunken driving arrest.

Fox says in a claim filed with the city earlier this month that he suffered damages due to negligence, false arrest and malicious prosecution by the city and Sgt. Raymond Fernandez and Officer Dean Uno. He says he was subjected to extraordinary treatment because of his vocal advocacy for normalizing relations with Cuba.

The State Attorney's Office decided not to pursue a charge stemming from the arrest, citing "insufficient evidence." Fox and his attorney say he nevertheless suffered public embarrassment and the personal humiliation of being detained for 12 hours and strip-searched twice despite clean breath and urine tests.

"I feel that I was arrested and harassed because of my political views," Fox said. "It's about restoring my good name."

His claim does not specify the financial damages he believes he is owed. His attorney said that would be up to a judge or jury.

Acting City Attorney Julia Mandell said, "It's a policy of the city attorney's office not to comment on potential or pending litigation."

Fox, 69, was arrested Feb. 21 after he was pulled over shortly after midnight for driving 63 mph in a 45 mph zone on N Dale Mabry Highway just north of W Hillsborough Avenue. He has said he was heading home from playing poker at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg, where he had a couple of sips of one beer.

He was pulled over by Fernandez, who then summoned Uno to perform a field sobriety test. Fernandez wrote that Fox had glassy eyes, very slurred speech and a distinct odor of alcohol.

Fernandez was involved with another controversial driving-under-the-influence arrest this year. Attorneys for C. Philip Campbell said Fernandez was part of a setup to arrest their client, a lawyer, for drunken driving while he was in the midst of a trial involving two of the area's radio shock jocks.

Fox said Uno recognized him as "that Cuba guy" in the course of his arrest. Uno wrote in a report that Fox failed tests of walking a straight line and maintaining balance on one foot.

Fox has said he failed the tests because he is an old man. He would later blow 0.000 on blood-alcohol breath tests twice, and a urine test also came back clean.

His attorney, Joseph K. Lopez, has said Fox was wearing sunglasses that night and that videotape of the stop debunks the slurred speech claim. And he said the officer would have needed to have an extremely strong sense of smell to pick up the scent of alcohol, given the outcome of the breath tests.

Lopez said he and Fox both believe in aggressive policing for drunken driving and that someone facing legitimate accusations should face sanctions.

But the law says people also should be free from unreasonable search and seizure. Violating those laws should also have consequences, Lopez said.

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"Many times, law enforcement and others have a tendency to minimize the impact, economic or psychological, that comes from being put in jail for 12 hours, especially someone who has never endured that type of action before," Lopez said. "That's just as important a law, and maybe more important a law, than one that says one should not drive drunk."

Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report.