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Fired in wake of DUI scandal, former Tampa officer asks for job back

TAMPA — Tampa police Sgt. Ray Fernandez, who was fired late last month following a DUI arrest authorities described as a set-up, is challenging his dismissal and has formally requested to be reinstated and paid back salary.

A Police Benevolent Association grievance on his behalf dated Oct. 9 asserts that the city did not have just cause to fire him, and that the discipline was "arbitrary, capricious, excessive and not progressive in nature."

The grievance says Fernandez denies he violated city policies.

He was fired Sept. 27 following an internal investigation of a Jan. 23 drunken driving arrest outside Malio's steak house in downtown Tampa.

The arrest came during the second week of a contentious civil defamation trial pitting Bubba the Love Sponge Clem against radio rival Todd "MJ" Schnitt.

According to state investigators who looked into it, a paralegal from the law firm of Adams & Diaco, which was representing Clem, lied about where she worked and bought several drinks for Tampa lawyer C. Philip Campbell, who was representing Schnitt.

All the while, the paralegal was calling and texting her bosses. Those bosses included lawyer Adam Filthaut, a close family friend of Fernandez.

Filthaut kept the DUI supervisor informed about the drinking at Malio's as police officers waited outside. The pair exchanged more than 90 texts, and Fernandez knew exactly when Campbell was leaving the bar.

About 10 p.m. that night, Fernandez pulled Campbell over as Campbell drove the paralegal's car. Another officer arrested Campbell after he declined to complete a field sobriety test.

Prosecutors later dropped the DUI charge against Campbell.

In firing Fernandez, the Tampa Police Department said he lied and most likely destroyed evidence about the incident.

"Sgt. Fernandez lost his impartiality and professionalism in dealing with this case," Chief Jane Castor said then.

He had worked on the force for 19 years and earned an annual salary of about $92,500.

In the wake of his firing, the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office dropped a dozen DUI cases in which Fernandez would have been an important figure or essential witness.