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On his way out, Tampa’s police chief settles a score with a City Council nemesis

Retiring Chief Brian Dugan and Council member Bill Carlson had a heated text exchange about the chief’s tenure and Carlson’s reelection chances.
Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan after appearing before the City Council Thursday to receive a commendation for his 31 years of service with the department, including four years as chief.
Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan after appearing before the City Council Thursday to receive a commendation for his 31 years of service with the department, including four years as chief. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
Published Sep. 3
Updated Sep. 3

TAMPA — Police Chief Brian Dugan is a short-timer. And he appears to be using some of it to speak his mind.

Consider a recent late July text exchange between Dugan and City Council member Bill Carlson. The thread shows the retiring chief isn’t holding back on his biggest critic on council.

And Carlson didn’t spare Dugan his opinion of the chief’s time at the helm of the Tampa Police Department.

Not surprisingly, it all began on Twitter.

A local activist, Tatiana Morales tweeted on July 26 about Dugan.

“I won’t miss someone who repeatedly ordered violence and death upon my community. Hopefully, whoever takes over will actually listen to the (community’s) needs.”

Later that evening, Carlson liked Morales’ tweet.

That prompted a text from Dugan to Carlson.

“Disappointed you would engage in something like this,” Dugan texted.

Carlson responded via text.

“I was repeatedly disappointed over the last two years and u didn’t seem to care then and didn’t reach out to me. I have not made any public statements and don’t plan to. I thank you for your service and wish you well.”

Council member Bill Carlson during a city council meeting in 2019.
Council member Bill Carlson during a city council meeting in 2019. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]

Dugan wasn’t having it.

“Liking that type of tweet says volumes. The voters will decide your future not me,” the chief texted.

Carlson then made a prediction about his political future. He’s up for reelection to his South Tampa district in 2023.

“Yes. I will get reelected in a landslide because voters want a change from the past,” he replied. “Sometime you should go back and watch the meetings to see how you treated council and the public.”

Carlson ended his text by saying he had removed his “like” from Morales’s tweet “out of respect for your tenure.”

Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan is congratulated by Council member Charlie Miranda during a City Council meeting Thursday, September 2, 2021 in Tampa.
Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan is congratulated by Council member Charlie Miranda during a City Council meeting Thursday, September 2, 2021 in Tampa. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

The text messages were obtained by the Tampa Bay Times through a records request this week.

Neither Dugan nor Carlson responded to a phone call requesting comment Friday morning. Morales couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

But after this story was published, Morales tweeted out: “Is it me? Am I the drama?”

She then tweeted support of Carlson and doubled down on Dugan.

Dugan is set to retire next week after 31 years with the department and four years as chief.

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Hired by former mayor Bob Buckhorn in part for his performance during the Seminole Heights serial murder case, the last part of Dugan’s tenure was marked by the high-profile, tense protests that rocked the city last summer.

Dugan said at the time that his officers went above and beyond to protect the protesters’ civil rights. And his department implemented a host of transparency improvements and use-of-force guidelines.

But the department’s response to protesters, who sometimes attempted to block streets and often refused to obey police orders to disperse, was also criticized, including after his officers detained a Times journalist during one protest.

The uproar spilled into council chambers (meetings were held at the Tampa Convention Center early last summer before being suspended during the second wave of the pandemic) as activists pushed for police reform, including an overhaul of the Citizens Review Board and for Mayor Jane Castor to fire Dugan. The mayor stood by her chief.

Castor eventually brokered a compromise on the board that left some activists disappointed.

After their testy texts, Dugan wasn’t done with Carlson.

At a recent roast for Dugan last month, the chief took a shot at Carlson, referring to him as “Bullet Bill” in reference to Carlson’s unsuccessful attempt last summer to stop the police department from purchasing ammunition, which they said was for training purposes.

Dugan received a City Council commendation for his service at this week’s meeting. Carlson left the dais during the commendation and didn’t return until the next item on the agenda.

Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan poses for a photo with Council member Charlie Miranda and assembled police officers after appearing before the City Council to receive a commendation for his 31 years of service with the department, including four years as chief.
Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan poses for a photo with Council member Charlie Miranda and assembled police officers after appearing before the City Council to receive a commendation for his 31 years of service with the department, including four years as chief. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Charlie Miranda, who delivered the commendation to Dugan, said he didn’t want to wade into a personal issue between the two men. And he said he respected the right of every public official to speak their mind.

But Miranda said he followed this rule.

“You got to know someone to accuse them of something. I know Dugan. He’s a stand-up guy.”

Times staff writer Tony Marrero contributed to this report.