Pinellas County Sheriff’s Deputies Admit To Subverting Justice By Filing False Police Reports & Fabricating Evidence

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.

images 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.

FLORIDA COP WHO LIED ABOUT SMELLING POT TO SEARCH VEHICLE SHOULD BE PROSECUTED & PUNISHED

Gloating officer with a bag of marijuana looks like he might enjoy using the smell of pot to gain entry to a home or vehicle with a search warrant in Tampa Bay, Florida.

Pinellas Circuit Judge Andrews recently found that a nosey police officer’s testimony was too incredible to be believed when the officer said he could smell marijuana in a vehicle he wanted to search for drugs. As often happens in Florida although the vehicle did have cocaine when searched without a warrant no marijuana was found. Officers in Florida are taught to use the smell of marijuana as a pretext to search vehicles without taking the time, paperwork or probable cause for a proper search warrant.


In his written opinion the judge noted that “… it stretches the limits of credulity for this court to believe that the search of the defendant’s vehicle was based upon the odor of marijuana.” What then, one wonders, was the search based on and why did officers choose that particular vehicle to stop?

Of the many St. Petersburg Police officers at the scene of the pulled over SUV only one testified that he could smell marijuana albeit mixed with vanilla air freshener to justify the search. Clearly when other officers could not readily obtain a search warrant, this officer decided that breaking the law justified an unlawful search. And let’s not mince words – the officer did break the law. First, the police officer committed at least a trespass and possibly an armed burglary of the vehicle since he had neither a search warrant nor permission to enter the vehicle. Second, the officer while testifying that he smelled marijuana may have committed the crime of perjury if he knowingly lied under oath during the Motion to Suppress evidence.

This manufacturing of evidence has been a recurring problem with Tampa Bay police officers. The only way for it to end is not only for heroic judges to throw out cases based on lies, but for the police departments to punish those who do it. 

I had a case in the Middle District Court in Tampa in which the initial stop was based on the very strong smell of marijuana. Yet when the trunk was opened without a search warrant there was no marijuana at all only a large quantity of methamphetamine. Despite suggestions from the government agents that marijuana must recently have been in the drunk, but offloaded just before the stop, the more reasonable likelihood is that the agents simply were not being honest.

Each defense lawyer in Pinellas County, Florida should be on the look out for any cases involving this officer. All of his pending cases should be reexamined by the state attorney’s office to determine if the factual basis for criminal charges is corrupt. Further, every plea and every conviction involving his work should be investigated. If it is found after an investigation that the officer knowingly lied to the Judge or entered the vehicle inappropriately then St. Petersburg Police Department should not only fire the officer, but arrest him for perjury, trespass or armed burglary. 

PINELLAS SHERIFF FINALLY CHANGES RULES FOR HIGH SPEED CAR CHASES AFTER MULTIPLE CAR CRASHES

Police car chases should commence only when the risk of harm from the chase is less than the threat of harm from the underlying alleged crime. Common sense has finally prevailed upon the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office to abandon it’s outdated dangerous vehicle pursuit policies by permitting police chases only when the chases are being used to prevent imminent violent criminal conduct.

Tampa Bay Depuites in Pinellas county will no longer be able to give chase to nonviolent offenders as Deputy Five & Sheriff Andy Taylor amight have done on his motorcycle.
Dep. Fife In Hot Persuit

The new policy allows deputies to pursue vehicles if and only if the following criteria is met:

1. The suspect must have committed a forcible felony.
2. The forcible felony must be categorized as one that actually endangers the public such as an armed robbery, sexual battery, attempted murder or murder.
3. There must be imminent or continuous threat to the public.

Part of the problem with the old rules was that even an infraction such as running a red light could trigger a very dangerous high speed chase if an officer believed that the there was any danger to the public. This led to highly threatening situations caused by the police chase itself. And while citizen’s lives were risked from mere traffic infractions that resulted in car pursuits, many officers were not even giving traffic tickets to officers who violated traffic laws.

Parsing thru the new rules, the goal is to forbid officers from engaging in high speed chases unless there’s an immediate and very real threat to the public. Following this criteria brings some interesting changes to actual police conduct. Bad driving alone will no longer be sufficient cause to give chase unless the driving itself of great public danger. Also, there will be no high speed vehicle pursuits for nonviolent crimes such as grand theft or stealing an officer’s hat under the new rules. 

If these rules are followed in Tampa Bay the number of active police pursuits should decline. But so far other police agencies have not made effective changes to their agency’s police policies. For example, the St. Petersburg Police Department pursuit policies have endangered lives even when the underlying felony is not violent. All of the Tampa Bay agencies should adjust their pursuit policies so that only suspects who are believed to have committed violent acts are pursued in high speed chases. For leading by example the Pinellas County Sheriff should be commended.

COPS SHOULD STOP OBTAINING FALSE CONFESSIONS WITH LIES & FALSE INFORMATION IN INTERROGATIONS

Across American police officers routinely lie during interrogations  in order to bully suspects into making damning admissions. The sordid goal is not to find the truth, but to find further evidence to guilt. 

Officers should not fabricated evidence to gain confessions...Pinocchio in the spotlight for telling lies, should not become an interrogator.
Officer Pinocchio lies to suspects.

For example, officers may lie about forensic evidence, asking why fingerprints match the suspect even when no fingerprint evidence exists. 
Officers may indicate that a nonexistent eye witness identifies the defendant or that a co-defendant admits everything and implicates the defendant. This use of false information to ensnare defendants is perfectly legal in most of the United States, yet it is also known to be one of the causes for the high incidence of false confessions.


In many other countries lying to a suspect would be viewed as police misconduct. And when viewed in it’s entirety it’s not much different than the evidence used in Soviet show trials or what might be expected from totalitarian regimes bent on maintaining power. 

In England, the birthplace of our common law, the government has restricted officers from using false information to lure confessions. The focus of British law enforcement investigations is to find the truth, not to merely obtain a confession. The British found that lying to defendants merely increased the chances of a false confession. 

Instead of lying about facts or playing good cop/bad cop as American interrogators are prone to do, British interrogations seek to find out from the suspect what happened. As the suspect tells the story the officers look for any inconsistencies. If there are inconsistencies, then the interrogation moves forward in an effort to find truth rather than merely find more evidence to convict. Evidence in British criminal cases is gathered and deployed to find the truth of what occurred rather than basing an investigation upon preconceived notions of guilt.

It’s about more than a suspect or target of an investigation merely trying to avoid arrest and prosecution. As a defense attorney and former prosecutor in Tampa Bay, Florida I’ve witnessed many officers freely admit under oath to lying to suspects in an effort to snare a fast confession. One wonders why any juror or judge would believe anything any officer might say after make such a damning admission. Yet what a lying officer is really saying is he’s willing to lie to subvert the legal system. Any police officer willing to lie should find another job instead of bending the framework of truth in the criminal justice system.

OFFICERS WHO LIE IN POLICE REPORTS OR UNDER OATH SHOULD BE DISCIPLINED & PROSECUTED FOR PERJURY

If a law enforcement officer deliberately gives false evidence under oath the officer should not only be disciplined within the force, but lose his job. Shouldn’t that officer also face appropriate criminal charges? 

Pinocchio-1940-poster.jpg In Tampa Bay and Clearwater Florida police make up facts to become Officer Pinocchio lying on police reports and during testimony.
Officer Pinocchio smells Marijuana

Yet in Florida it’s very rare to find prosecutors willing to charge police officers with perjury. The problem often originates in the first incident reports created by officers after arrests are made. 

Prosecutors see that officers make many factual errors from the very beginning of each case. After all, no one is perfect. Nor could one reasonably expect an exact rendition of facts. 

Yet Clearwater criminal defense attorneys often find that the initial incident reports are replete with factual errors that place those arrested by officers at a disadvantage while helping police make easy arrests. Too often police are willing to break or bend the law based on their mere suspicions of wrongdoing. And officers know that most folks whom they arrest do not have the means to fight the criminal system in a quest for justice.

Police first learn to bend the truth to become effective law enforcement officers. In fact, while I was a prosecutor it was clear that officers were routinely taught that there was no need to be truthful to defendants during investigations. Further, officers are told that if they find evidence of crime they should exploit the discovery by searching for further evidence. 

Here in Tampa Bay, Florida officers are taught that if they smell marijuana they can search a vehicle or even someone’s home without a search warrant. Naturally every officer too lazy to get a proper warrant somehow smells marijuana even when it’s not at the crime scene. No wonder the typical officers’ nose is so very long, as for centuries they’ve been bred for smelling efficiency mixed with the wooden bearing of Pinocchio.

I had a client who was charged with trafficking in methamphetamine because the arresting officer searched the vehicle without a warrant after smelling marijuana. But miracle of miracles there was no marijuana in the car at all only a hell of a lot of methamphetamine. Was the Tampa officer lying? Here’s his explanation:

The car was clearly being used for trafficking drugs. The distinct odor of marijuana I smelled came from the trunk area of the vehicle. It’s clear that the trunk area must have been where the marijuana had been stored. 

The Defendant obviously had just made a delivery of the marijuana probably only minutes before I made the stop of the vehicle for a bad tag.

With a little prodding he’d have happily divined the quantity in each bag, the grade of marijuana and it’s unique hallucinogenic affects. 

In another case which the state attorney’s office no filed and dismissed, officers keen sense of smell helped them gain entry into a home where sure enough after turning the house inside and out they found that marijuana – one lone unlit joint in the bedroom far from the front door. Because the officers never lied under oath about the marijuana they were neither disciplined nor were they charged with perjury. The officers should also be disciplined.

It’s not enough when cases that originate based on a lie are no filed and dismissed. What can be done to correct poor police conduct? What is the best remedy that would require reliable, honest police investigations?

Here’s a solution that would bring justice to the criminal system. Every officer who writes a report must not only sign the report, but sign a sworn affidavit that everything in the report is accurate, honest and fair to the best of his knowledge. 

Law enforcement officers who are found to have violated the affidavit would be disciplined, fired and then charged with perjury. The threat of perjury charges based not only on sworn testimony under oath during jury trials, but also on investigations themselves as defined in police reports would go a long way toward solving the problem of dishonest law enforcement officers. The role of officers would be redefined as having the foremost duty of always abiding by the law.

SHOULD OFFICER WHO USED DATABASE TO VIEW PERSONAL INFO ON OTHER COPS’ WIVES FACE PRISON

A Clearwater sergeant was found by an internal investigation to have a long history of misusing Florida law enforcement computer data by making a survey of the wives of other police officers according to press reports.  

Tampa Bay Florida officer who abused his power by looking at private database should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Officer’s Empty Shoes

One of the databases used by the Seargeant not only allows the viewing of photographs of Floridians, but includes personal information such as the date of birth, home address and driving history. The Clearwater police officer retired before the Clearwater Police Department could fire him; in fact he retired even before Clearwater criminal defense attorneys could depose him for abusing the public trust.

Yet it’s troubling that leering at the information on fellow officer’s wives in Florida information databases seems to have been the tipping point in forcing the retirement rather than the use of the database to find personal information on a reporter, nor the use of information on his ex-wife’s new boyfriend, nor the use of private information gleaned from government databases over a hundred times against those he should have been protecting just in the past two years for questionable purposes.

And this is especially troubling when one considers the sordid history of police assaults on privacy in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, where a narcotics division internal affairs investigation led to resignations for wide-spread misconduct that included, lying under oath, making fake subpoenas and other felonious conduct.

The real question here for Tampa Bay criminal lawyers is whether criminal charges should be brought against the officer. The decision should not be based on his disrespect to other officers while leering at their wives, but on the fact that the very laws that the Clearwater Police Department was meant to enforce are the very laws one of its leaders chose to abuse for two years and over one hundred times. 

MUST LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS ALWAYS TELL THE TRUTH WHEN QUESTIONING SUSPECTS ABOUT A CRIME

Your favorite Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney was recently asked an interesting question about the strategy and tactics of police interrogations. Do law enforcement officers have any duty to be truthful while questioning suspects?

Here’s the question I received:

My twenty year old son was arrested in Tampa Bay, Florida for being in Possession of a Sawed-off Shotgun. After being questioned for a number of hours, police told him that they had a video which showed him with the shotgun. My son admitted he’d had the sawed-off shotgun. Turns out the Police lied to him about the video. There was no video at all. Can my son’s statement be thrown out because the Officer’s lied to him?

Like Degas haunting self portrait as a young man so this twenty year old Florida man faces a three year sentence for a firearm in Tampa Bay Florida.
Degas, Self Portrait


The police in Florida have no duty to be honest in telling someone suspected of a crime what the actual evidence against them is. In fact, police investigators are trained to deceive suspects as to the quantity and quality of evidence and Florida Courts would not view the dangling of a falsehood while fishing for the truth as police misconduct. 

However, there are other consideration which should be investigated that could help your son. First, since your son was in police custody, then he should have been given his Miranda warnings. Did he ask for a lawyer at any time during questioning? If so, then the questioning should have immediately ended.
Further, his treatment and the conditions he endured while in custody should be looked at. For example, in a federal drug case I once made the argument that Post Miranda statements from sixteen Defendants should be thrown out because of the way the Defendants were mistreated with no access to food, water, nor a toilet.
You’re right to be very concerned about the charge of Possession of a Sawed-off Shotgun as under Florida law that charge carries a minimum mandatory term of prison. 

Beyond attacking the interrogation of your son, the firearm should be inspected by a Defense firearm expert. Florida does make some exceptions for sawed-off shotguns under that statute; for example, if it can be established that the firearm was an antique or that the firearm is an exception as classified under the Federal law, which Florida recognizes, then a Defense Motion to Dismiss the charge would be successful.

Here’s the relevant Florida Statute:
790.221 Possession of short-barreled rifle, short-barreled shotgun, or machine gun; penalty.

(1) It is unlawful for any person to own or to have in his or her care, custody, possession, or control any short-barreled rifle, short-barreled shotgun, or machine gun which is, or may readily be made, operable; but this section shall not apply to antique firearms.
(2) A person who violates this section commits a felony of the second degree.
(3) Firearms in violation hereof which are lawfully owned and possessed under provisions of federal law are excepted.

Finally, a few years ago I tried a similar case before a jury in Pinellas. The trial was necessary because Pinellas County prosecutors refused to treat my sixteen year old client as the child he was, insisting that he accept a minimum mandatory three year sentence. They did not care that the sentence would have ruined his life. He’d used the shotgun to break into a Doctor’s car. During the Jury Trial I argued that since he did not use the firearm as a weapon, but as a tool, he was not guilty of Possession of the Sawed-off Shotgun. The Jury found him not guilty.

FLORIDA POLICE CAUGHT GIVING CONFIDENTIAL PRIVATE LAW ENFORCEMENT INFORMATION

Years ago while your Clearwater Criminal Lawyer was a young sometimes productive Prosecuting Attorney in Florida one of the other lawyers bought a beautiful 911 Porsche, red as I remember. He boasted to someone at the office that the Porsche was more recent than it really was. 

Within a day xeroxed evidence materialized showing the Porsche was much older than he claimed. The information gracing every wall was from confidential law enforcement tag sources meant only for law enforcement purposes. For kicks someone added his NCIC criminal history which unhappily showed little of interest as well as his Florida Department of Motor Vehicles information establishing a litany of speeding tickets.

Former Prosecutor’s Porsche 911
For fun in those long begone days we prosecutors often had mock prosecutions of each other when not faced with real trials taking turns in various roles. I was often chosen as Counsel for the Defense, but not for him. The evidence on the walls was deemed trustworthy. At trial in one of our offices, doors locked to prying supervisors, we convicted him of being not only a liar, but of something somehow worse and unspoken, of being less than a gentleman. To this day when I see him defending in Court, I cringe in disgust.
Yet after all these years could it be that my judgment was misplaced? Clearly, one of the lawyers in that State Attorney’s Office took it upon himself to commit a felony just to put the Porsche Man down. 
My thoughts turned to that long ago incident after seeing today’s press reports concerning a Clearwater Police Department Officer who appears to have gained confidential car tag information for a friend going thru a divorce. If the information was delivered without being part of a law enforcement investigation, then there’s no excuse for the failure to respect another citizen’s privacy rights.
Yet, I can’t help but think that it’s some of my former colleagues, those same Prosecutors who may have taken that Porsche tag information so long ago, who are weighing whether to charge the Clearwater officer with a felony. I wonder if they remember. If so, they don’t need a Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney to tell them that the statute of limitations has passed and at least they’re safe from prosecution.