TAMPA — For years, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has had a zero-tolerance policy for employees charged with driving under the influence. Get arrested and face immediate termination.
Sheriff David Gee started the policy when he took office 15 years ago, and his successor Chad Chronister has kept it in place.
Now, the policy — unusual among agencies in the Tampa Bay area — might claim the job of someone related to the chief deputy who helped Chronister's rise to the top of the agency.
Monica Docobo, a 24-year-old crime scene investigator for the Sheriff's Office, was arrested on a DUI charge in Manatee County March 9, records show. Docobo is the niece of José Docobo, who served 14 years as Gee's second in command, then spent about seven months as Chronister's chief until retiring in May.
Monica Docobo has been suspended without pay pending an administrative review, said Danny Alvarez, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Office.
The arrest will likely end her career at the agency.
Upon taking office in 2004, Gee ordered immediate suspension without pay for any employee charged with a DUI and, regardless of a conviction, termination or the opportunity to resign or retire after due process. Chronister, who was appointed to the post in 2017 when Gee retired early, then elected in November to finish Gee's term, opted to continue the policy.
"While he understands people are human and make mistakes, our duty is to uphold the very same laws we are held to," Alvarez told the Tampa Bay Times.
In Docobo's case, Alvarez also noted that crime scene investigators are required to drive an agency vehicle so they can't hold that position without a valid license.
Docobo refused to provide a breath sample after her arrest, according to an arrest report. Under Florida law, refusing to provide a sample typically results in a yearlong license suspension.
Docobo was driving a black Lexus south on the Sunshine Skyway when she was stopped by a St. Petersburg police officer about 12:15 a.m., according to a Florida Highway Patrol arrest report. The officer told a responding trooper the Lexus was swerving, straddling lanes markers and traveling 45 mph in a 65 mph zone.
Docobo's eyes were glossy and she had the "extremely obvious odor of alcohol" on her breath, Trooper J.S. Angelicchi wrote. Though she had been traveling south, Docobo told the trooper she was driving to her home near the airport in Tampa.
"I had to inform the suspect that she was in fact in Manatee County and she just gave me a blank stare of disbelief," Angelicchi wrote.
Docobo had to hold onto her car for balance. The trooper drove her to the rest area to perform sobriety exercises. Docobo swayed and stumbled and failed to follow some directions.
She was booked into the Manatee County jail and released later the same day after posting $120 bail, records show. She did not respond to a message seeking comment.
Most other law enforcement agencies in the Tampa Bay area, including the Tampa and St. Petersburg police departments and sheriffs' offices in Pasco and Hernando, don't have specific DUI policies but discipline employees on a case-by-case basis.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri adopted a zero-tolerance policy in 2013 amid a rash of drunken driving arrests among agency employees, including a 19-year veteran. Before that, the range of discipline for a Sheriff's Office employee charged with a DUI ranged from a seven-day suspension to termination.
"People die from this and we can't have sheriff's deputies or members of the Sheriff's Office blatantly make that decision and put people in harm's way," Gualtieri said at the time.
Just in the last year, the Pinellas policy has resulted in the firing of a corporal and a lieutenant. In January, an off-duty veteran detective lost his job after he drove himself to a homicide scene while under the influence of alcohol. He was promptly arrested and fired.
Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.