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Crime & Courts

Tampa DUI unit reorganized after arrest scandal

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Published:   |   Updated: August 2, 2013 at 06:56 AM

TAMPA - Responding to a scandal that started as a battle between two shock jocks and has now grown into allegations of official corruption, Police Chief Jane Castor on Thursday announced the department's DUI unit will be reorganized to allow more scrutiny.

Currently centrally located, the 12 officers of the department's DUI unit will be distributed among its three districts, Castor said. The change will take effect Sunday.

"By putting them out into the districts and having more oversight and more accountability, it will prevent a lapse in judgment by a single supervisor from negatively impacting the entire department or the unit," Castor said.

The chief made the announcement after lawyer John Fitzgibbons called a news conference to say he wants Mayor Bob Buckhorn to appoint a special counsel to investigate the DUI unit.

Fitzgibbons represents Charles Philip Campbell, a lawyer whose charge was dismissed on Monday after a special investigation by the State Attorney's Office concluded there was too much evidence he had been set up.

"I strongly encourage Mayor Buckhorn to address this issue immediately," Fitzgibbons said at a news conference in his downtown office. "It is now a scandal that is festering. We have virtually nothing from the Tampa Police Department explaining what happened that night and, perhaps even more importantly, what steps are they taking to prohibit this from happening again."

Campbell was arrested in the middle of a high-profile civil trial in January when he represented radio shock jock Todd "MJ" Schnitt, who was accusing fellow disc jockey Bubba the Love Sponge Clem of defamation.

After an investigation, Pinellas State Attorney Bernie McCabe concluded Clem's lawyers and employees of that firm colluded with Tampa police to entrap Campbell, who was persuaded to drive a car being used by a paralegal who was working for Adams and Diaco, the firm that represented Clem.

"There shouldn't be any dispute after reading this investigation," Fitzgibbons said. "This thing stinks."

Contacted after Castor's announcement, Fitzgibbons was unimpressed with the police chief's planned reorganization of the DUI unit. "You can move officers around on an organizational chart all day every day but it does not answer the question of why did this scandal occur, what are the details of the scandal and is the Tampa police Department going to take any disciplinary action against anybody for this scandal."

According to McCabe's investigation of Campbell's arrest, an attorney at Adams and Diaco, Adam Filthaut, was a close friend of Sgt. Raymond Fernandez, who oversaw the DUI unit. The men's wives have been best friends since high school and Filthaut is the godfather of one of Fernandez' children. The night of Campbell's arrest by Fernandez and Officer Tim McGinnis, Fernandez and Filthaut exchanged 92 text messages.

Castor said Fitzgibbons raised "several valid points" in a letter Fitzgibbons wrote to Buckhorn asking for an investigation. The chief said she was particularly distressed by the number of text messages between Fernandez and Filthaut. "I was told at the beginning that there were a few texts shared between Ray and the tipster," she said. "When I found out it was 92, to say the least, I was a little upset."

At the same time, she said, Fernandez "deserves and will receive due process just like any other citizen." Although he has been removed from the DUI unit, he is now working in the special operations unit and has not been punished, Castor said. She said she will decide what to do after the FBI fully investigates what happened.

Fitzgibbons said refusing to answer questions because of the FBI investigation is "just a delay tactic and an excuse by the city of Tampa police department not to answer the hard questions.''

Fitzgibbons said a special counsel should investigate not only what happened to Campbell but should review the activities of the DUI unit of the police department, including a focus on whether officers have quotas for DUI arrests.

Castor denied the department has DUI arrest quotas, although she said the department does uses a "performance matrix" to hold officers to high standards. "There is no doubt that proactive DUI enforcement prevents crashes and saves lives," she said.

Fitzgibbons said citizens should be concerned about the events surrounding Campbell's Jan. 23 arrest, which he called "disgusting," "disgraceful," "scandalous" and "atrocious."

"If this could happen to somebody like Phil Campbell, it could happen to anybody," he said, "somebody going through a divorce - your soon-to-be-ex spouse could have a friend on the police department to set you up and impact child custody issues; you could be in a business dispute with someone, and your opponent has a friend on the Tampa Police department to set you up with an arrest. It never ends.''

Castor said, "We do have policies that officers are not allowed to use their position to intervene or handle personal issues or issues for friends or relatives." The chief had previously said Fernandez used bad judgment in not removing himself from the case.

Fitzgibbons wrote Buckhorn a letter asking him to appoint as special counsel a lawyer with a background as a former federal prosecutor with experience investigating corruption. He suggested the counsel be given 120 days to report to the mayor and citizens how to prevent a scandal like this from happening again.

Buckhorn was out of town and could not be reached for comment. But Castor said she doesn't think a special counsel is necessary because the FBI is already conducting a thorough investigation.

esilvestrini@tampatrib.com

813-259-7837

Twitter: @ElaineTBO

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