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Joe Henderson

Henderson: Officer's missing texts raise doubts in DUI case

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Published:   |   Updated: August 1, 2013 at 11:43 AM

Among the many salacious nuggets sprinkled throughout the report on the arrest of Tampa attorney Charles Phillip Campbell, the detail of why 92 text messages related to the case disappeared is particularly troubling.

In his investigation of this bizarre, tawdry affair, Pinellas State Attorney Bernie McCabe notes that Sgt. Raymond Fernandez of the Tampa Police Department exchanged 92 texts with attorney and friend Adam Filthaut before and immediately after Campbell was popped on a DUI charge. According to the report, Fernandez said he accidentally erased those texts. It could have happened that way, I suppose, but how do we know it wasn't something straight from the Rose Mary Woods playbook?

The case against Campbell, dubious at best, was dismissed this week, but lots of questions about ethics and common sense remain. Those missing texts could be the key to what really happened that night. Even though the report says Fernandez admitted most of the texts were related to Campbell's apparent increasing intoxication, critical pieces could be missing.

Filthaut happens to work for the Adams and Diaco law firm, as does paralegal Melissa Personius. At the time of his arrest in January, Campbell was representing Todd "MJ" Schnitt in a high-profile defamation lawsuit against Bubba The Love ... oh, I can't keep a straight face while writing that name.

Bubba was represented by Filthaut's firm.

Campbell was planning to walk a couple of blocks to his home when he was apparently maneuvered by Personius - who was buying him drinks in this increasingly ridiculous tale - into moving her car. Fernandez quickly pulled him over.

Attorneys behaving badly? Well, fill in your own punch line here.

If Fernandez was in on the deal, though, that raises the stakes.

If the attorney was giving Fernandez a glug-by-glug account of Campbell's alcohol consumption inside Malio's restaurant that night in downtown Tampa, that would be bad.

Protocol required Fernandez to alert another officer to avoid a conflict of interest; Police Chief Jane Castor said he showed "bad judgment" in making the arrest himself.

Presumably he knew that, which makes the missing texts even more suspicious.

The state's report says "Sgt. Fernandez essentially lay in wait for most of the three hours" while Campbell was inside Malio's. The texts could prove or disprove that theory.

Even if lawyers hatched and executed this juvenile stunt, though, Fernandez is an experienced, decorated officer with nearly 19 years on the force. He should have known better than to get caught up in it. He apparently has no serious red flags in his past.

This could have been a one-time lapse in judgment.

The problem is, cops have to stay above suspicion.

When they don't - say, when 92 critical texts disappear - people are inclined to think the worst. Until we know all the facts, that might not be fair.

Then again, it might be.

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