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Tuesday, Oct 21, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Fernandez was a bad cop, and he had to go

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Cops — well, ex-cops — like Ray Fernandez confirm every worst stereotype people have about the police. This cowboy became the face of any complaint citizens might have about cops who play by their own rules without regard to the public they serve.

It’s not fair, of course. Obviously, most members of the Tampa Police Department do it right.

They perform an incredibly dangerous job with distinction and honor. But when they don’t, and Fernandez didn’t, you get what we saw on Friday when Chief Jane Castor fired him.

She also fired Detective Jeanette Hevel after charging her with grand theft for stealing money orders from the personal property room at police headquarters.

Stealing is stupid. Stealing is criminal.

But what Fernandez did was worse.

***

Fernandez was the DUI supervisor who slapped attorney Philip Campbell with a bogus arrest outside Malio’s restaurant in January. Campbell was involved in a high-profile trial, and Fernandez was friends with a lawyer whose firm was representing the other side in the case.

The arrest was never prosecuted because it stunk to high heaven.

A special prosecutor found Fernandez was being sent a drink-by-drink account while he lay in wait a short distance away. Oh, and Campbell was being given drinks by a paralegal working for opposing counsel. Since he lives near the restaurant, he planned to walk home that night, but the paralegal coaxed him into moving her car and, well ...

It doesn’t get much worse for a cop with 19 years on the force to be involved in something as tawdry as this. That might be the way police operate in Lakeland, but it doesn’t work here.

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In her news release announcing the move, Castor referred to two officers “who have tarnished their badge.”

Castor said Fernandez not only compromised his integrity, he lied about it to investigators.

“Never lose sight of the power of your badge, and the absolute requirement that you never act in a way to bring dishonor to yourself or this organization,” Castor said.

No one needs to be reminded how serious an offense DUI has become, but something like this brings every arrest Fernandez ever made into question. It reminds people that he was in on the arrest in May of Al Fox, an activist for improved relations between the United States and Cuba.

Fox blew a 0.00 on the Breathalyzer, even though the arrest report noted “a strong odor of alcohol on his breath.” The DUI charge was later dropped. His attorney has notified the city of his intent to sue.

That’s the type of mess a cop like Fernandez creates.

A city reserves special scorn for officers who play games with the law, and no one knows that better than the chief. She takes fierce pride in running her department with a high degree of professionalism, so this clearly stung.

I’d say it was the right move, but firing Fernandez and Hevel was her only move. Cops — well, ex-cops — like that ruin it for everyone.

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