Ex-Tampa detective agrees to diversion program, will avoid prosecution

Jarda Bradford was arrested last year on allegations that she tampered with evidence in a criminal investigation.
Defense attorney Richard Escobar speaks on behalf of his client, Jarda Bradford, during a December news conference at his law office in Tampa.
Defense attorney Richard Escobar speaks on behalf of his client, Jarda Bradford, during a December news conference at his law office in Tampa. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Apr. 28, 2021

TAMPA — A former Tampa police detective who was arrested in December on allegations that she tampered with evidence has agreed to enter a diversion program that will allow her to avoid criminal charges.

Jarda Bradford will not be prosecuted if she complies with conditions that include 18 months of state supervision, 50 hours of community service and payment of court costs, according to an agreement filed Friday in Hillsborough Circuit Court.

“We don’t believe there was any basis whatsoever to file any criminal charges against Jarda Bradford,” defense attorney Richard Escobar said. “This was the way for the state and defense to resolve this matter in an amicable way.”

Escobar noted that fighting a criminal case is expensive, and the agreement allows Bradford to avoid having to pay to defend herself in court. Nevertheless, Escobar said he was confident the law was in their favor.

“We felt very, very, very comfortable that, should we have litigated this matter, we would have prevailed,” he said.

The state had yet to file formal charges against Bradford.

Related: Arrested Tampa detective's errors were not crimes, says defense attorney

In a statement, the office of Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren noted that the agreement provides sanctions similar to those a person would receive for a first-time, nonviolent crime. Bradford had no history of trouble with the law and no prior discipline while she worked for the Tampa Police Department.

“As a community, we rightly hold law enforcement officers to a higher standard,” the statement read. “But in the legal system, justice is blind, and the law is applied the same way for everyone.”

The agreement closed what had been a controversial case from its outset.

Bradford’s attorney maintained that her mistakes resulted from a lack of proper training and occurred amid what was described as a toxic work environment.

The Police Department denied those accusations.

“Our investigation revealed that Jarda Bradford committed a felony,” Police Chief Brian Dugan said in a statement. “No one is above the law and she was arrested. We are embarrassed that a former officer broke the law.”

Bradford, 38, worked in law enforcement for 15 years. She was promoted last year to the rank of detective.

She was the lead investigator in an attempted murder case that involved an Oct. 17 shooting on Waters Avenue. During the investigation, Bradford instructed an officer to show a witness a photo lineup to help identify a possible suspect, according to police. The officer did so, but the witness was unable to identify anyone as a suspect in the photos.

Afterward, Bradford realized that the witness did not put her initials on each photo, as police procedure required. She later uploaded a version of the photo array into a computer with the witness’ initials having been forged, according to police.

Stay on top of what’s happening in Tampa

Stay on top of what’s happening in Tampa

Subscribe to our free Tampa Times newsletter

You’ll get a roundup of the biggest Tampa community news twice a week.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

In the same investigation, Bradford told another detective to show a photo array to a second witness, but forgot to mask a set of earrings that were visible in one of the images, as required, police said. Weeks later, the images were uploaded with the earrings blacked out.

Dugan announced Bradford’s arrest in a December news conference. She was fired weeks later.

Warren, in a statement, said “every rookie officer” knows it’s a crime to alter evidence.

“This is not a lack of training at the detective level,” he said. “These are decisions even a first-year officer should not make, and they undermine the public’s trust in the entire justice system.”

Ultimately, Bradford’s actions did not compromise the attempted murder case, the state said.

Bradford remains a state-certified law enforcement officer, Escobar said. She is close to obtaining a doctorate degree in homeland security and wants to return to work in the public sector, though not at the Tampa Police Department.

Although she made mistakes, Escobar said the matter should have been handled administratively within the department.

“This was not even close to being a case that should have gone through the criminal justice system,” he said. “This was a waste of time and a lot of financial resources.”