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.
This much is certain – evidence was destroyed in a marijuana grow house case. The Defense believes the evidence would have established that undercover officers broke the law by committing at least a trespass and possibly a burglary to the dwelling of the Defendant before a search warrant was obtained. The case was already controversial in that Deputies obtained warrants by following vehicles parked at a hydrponics store which is likely unconstitutional based on a new Supreme Court decision. Having tried a federal grow house case in which there was insufficient evidence from the Government to convict my client, I believe that the recourses being used as well as the underhanded activities of law enforcement in these cases is unconscionable…
The evidence destroyed was surveillance video on the hard drive of a video recorder installed at the Defendant’s home. After an internal affairs complaint was filed by the defense attorney, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office found that Sgt. Taylor, a supervisor of the narcotics division, ordered the hard drive of the video recorder to be erased. His reason – he claims the video showed the bare faces of undercover Detectives and this could place them in future jeopardy.
The punishment for the Deputy? Suspension for five days and reassignment to patrol…This blog has noted that there are a large number of morally challenged officers who are not being fired. But my question is – why is he not in jail?
Law enforcement is not the final arbiter of what evidence is of value and what isn’t – the Courts are. It’s only the rule of law as established by the Courts which guards our rights as Americans keeping us from being a police state…No destruction of evidence should occur before the Defense, the Judge and a Jury has had an opportunity to view it. A judge would have ordered the faces of any Detectives to be redacted to preserve their future safety.
Why is tampering with evidence a felony punishable by up to five years in prison in Florida? Because the purpose of criminal justice is to find the truth. How can we find the truth if the Police tamper with evidence before the Court and a Criminal Defense Lawyer have an opportunity to view the evidence?
To protect the integrity of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office the following should be done immediately:
1. A grand jury must be convened to determine if laws were broken, and if so by whom including the possible felony of destroying exculpatory evidence with recommendations for proper protection of all evidence.
2. The FDLE and the FBI should investigate to determine if laws were broken and if so how far up the chain of command this went. Those supervisors with knowledge, those who acquiesced in crime, those who failed to stand up and do the right thing should be fired and prosecuted.
3. The State Attorney’s Office should be given the impartial investigation results and make a public decision on whether direct filing of felonies is warranted with factual explanations.
4. At the same time Federal Prosecutors should investigate to determine if any Federal laws were broken and if the systemic corruption within PCSO and the State Attorney’s Office can be rooted out.
Florida Statutes > Chapter 918 > § 918.13 – Tampering with or fabricating physical evidence
Current as of: 2011
(1) No person, knowing that a criminal trial or proceeding or an investigation by a duly constituted prosecuting authority, law enforcement agency, grand jury or legislative committee of this state is pending or is about to be instituted, shall:
(a) Alter, destroy, conceal, or remove any record, document, or thing with the purpose to impair its verity or availability in such proceeding or investigation; or
(b) Make, present, or use any record, document, or thing, knowing it to be false.
(2) Any person who violates any provision of this section shall be guilty of a felony of the third degree
The above Florida Statute applies in this case. There is no exception for law enforcement officers and it is specific that one can not “…alter, destroy, conceal or remove…” evidence in any case “pending or is about to be instituted.” If you believe a law enforcement officer has acted improperly in your case contact a Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney for immediate help.
Could this be an inconspicuous undercover Clearwater Detective — about to do a burglary?
|Boris Kustodiev, Self Portrait, 1905