Thursday, January 23, 2014

Task Force issues report on Tampa's DUI unit

Posted By on Thu, Jan 23, 2014 at 10:10 PM

tampa-dui-lawyer.jpg
A new task force report released today on the Tampa Police Department's DUI department suggested some minor improvements, such as updating incident reforms and expanding the use of video recordings, but it's overall review concludes that TPD's policies and practices in DUI cases are "generally appropriate."

"We found no evidence of inappropriate targeted or selective enforcement and we discovered no 'red flags' that would suggest any other substantial failure in the practices of TPD," it states. "To the contrary, we found TPD officers generally engage in good practice and respect the individual rights of the people they are investigating."

The six-person task force was convened at the request of Police Chief Jane Castor last August, in the wake of two embarrassing DUI cases that shattered the public's confidence about that department and TPD itself. The task force's charge was to investigate all open DUI cases involving Sgt. Ray Fernandez and Officer Tim McGinnis, the two officers involved in the arrest of attorney Phillip Campbell, whose DUI bust was later determined to be set up by an opposing law firm in the shock jock trial involving Bubba the Love Sponge Clem and Todd Schnitt last January.

Al Fox
  • Al Fox
The other notable case involved the overnight detaining of Cuban activist Al Fox, despite the fact that the 69-year-old blew 0.000 on blood-alcohol breath tests twice, and a urine test also came back clean. Fox had said that Officer Dean Uno, who teamed with Sgt. Fernandez on his arrest, at one point recognized him as "that Cuba guy" during the course of his arrest.

Fox is suing the TPD over the case, and said Thursday afternoon that his initial take was the report was somewhat "bland."

Among the recommendations were for video cameras to be placed in the cars of all DUI supervisors. "There's nothing better than a neutral camera," said retired Circuit Judge Barbara Fleischer, a member of the task force.

Fox agrees that video recording should take place from the moment a motorist is being stopped, and agrees that a supervising officer also should have video equipment. "That's where Raymond Fernandez abused his position," Fox maintains.

The very first improvement on page one of the review team's report calls for DUI officers to provide more details about all three phases of their investigations, which are: 1) Vehicle in motion prior to the traffic stop, 2) Officer's observations of the driver's behavior, and 3) Field Sobriety Test.

Fox is also disappointed that there is nothing in the recommendations that would allow the suspect to be released if his blood-alcohol test comes up 0.000, as was the case for himself.

And he says his mug shot (accessible today via the Internet) has led to ridicule and embarrassment, all over something that Fox was not guilty of. "I'm more angrier today than I was on February 21," the day of his arrest.

Other recommendations include having expanding field sobriety tests, and updating the policy on urine testing (previously officers were operating under the "misperception" that they could only submit urine testing if a driver's breath alcohol content was below .05).

The six member task force consisted of three Tampa Police officers (Sergeant Doug Graves, Captain Eric Ward and Assistant Chief John Bennett), along with Judge Barbara Fleischer from the 12th and 13th Judicial Circuit Courts in Sarasota, Bradenton and Tampa; Chief Dean Register, Assistant Inspector General for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and Nick Cox, Statewide Prosecutor under Attorney General Pam Bondi.

"There was not one shred of evidence that there has been any selective targeted enforcement in any of these cases," said Fleischer told reporters.

Chief Castor began decentralizing the DUI unit back in August, a "reboot" in her words. She said some of the issues the review found involved human error, saying that officers, like everyone else, can become creatures of habit. But she put a happy sheen over the event, saying the DUI units are now revitalized after being "demoralized by the embarrassing incident last year."

The TPD fired Fernandez last fall. He is now suing to get his job back. He's also the subject of an FBI investigation.

The task force took three and a half months to produce the report.

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