The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department fired two deputies who belatedly admitted that they schemed to subvert justice by filing false police reports and fabricating evidence.
One deputy was fired when he falsely noted in a police report of a pending drug case that the defendant has personal possession of the drugs and was observed by an officer throwing the drugs. The other officer denied that he had seen the defendant with any drugs.
A second deputy was fired for filling out part of a health DUI form incident to a DUI arrest although he’d forgotten to ask the defendant about any health issues. Although both of these incidents reflect poorly on PCSO, at least the sheriff should be commended for taking appropriate action to rid the department of the men as an example of the need for reliable police conduct within the department.
Yet firing is not enough. This is far from the first time law enforcement officers in Largo, Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa have been caught by the internal affairs unit of undermining criminal justice. In fact there has been a relentless systematic disregard of proper police conduct including officers who not only fabricate evidence but often lie under oath. Why do law enforcement officers continue to break the law by bending facts of possible criminal conduct in police reports and in collection of evidence?
They lie because the benefits of giving false evidence are greater than the possible detriments. The benefits include fast promotions, excellent reviews from superiors and pay increases. The only detriment is the possibility of being reprimanded or fired when their lies are exposed by credible evidence such as video or other officer’s testimony. Any other evidence from defendants or other witnesses are dismissed as unreliable.
More needs to be done than mere firing. The State Attorney’s Office should begin an immediate and thorough investigation as to whether to file criminal charges against these deputies. In fact, any officer of the law who is found to have given false evidence should face the full consequences of the criminal law. There is no worse act those sworn under oath to protect Floridians can perpetrate than to subvert the very system of justice they should uphold. Only a realistic risk of criminal consequences will deter future law enforcement officers in Tampa Bay from breaking the law.