10/1/2013Florida: Police Sergeant Fired Over Bogus DUI Arrest
Validity of drunk driving arrests called into question in Tampa, Florida.
Police in Tampa, Florida on Friday fired Sergeant Ray Fernandez over his role in a bogus arrest of a prominent lawyer for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). Tampa officers arrested C. Philip Campbell Jr on January 23, just two weeks into the high-profile defamation trial between prominent radio show hosts Bubba the Love Sponge and Todd MJ Schnitt. Campbell represented Schnitt, and rival attorney Adam Filthaut represented Bubba the Love Sponge.
Filthaut was a good friend of Sergeant Fernandez and godfather of one of his children. On January 23, Filthaut called Sergeant Fernandez and soon thereafter the DUI unit supervisor began a stakeout of Malio's Prime Steakhouse, where Campbell regularly eats. As it is just two blocks away from his condo and near his work, Campbell walks. An investigation by the state attorney's office concluded that Campbell had been set up for this DUI arrest by police colluding with the rival law firm.
Campbell arrived at the steakhouse at 5:30pm, and within an hour Melissa Personius, a legal assistant at Filthaut's law firm, noticed Campbell drinking and called her boss, Robert Adams. Adams then called Filthaut and Filthaut called Sergeant Fernandez, according to call records. Personius sat at the bar next to Campbell, beginning the conversation by lying about where she worked. She then began flirting with Campbell, buying him drinks. At 9:30pm, they decided to leave, but Personius expressed surprise that Campbell did not drive. Campbell told the valet that Personius was not in a condition to get behind the wheel and that she should take a cab. He even went to an ATM machine to get money to pay for it. Personius then began another flurry of calls and texts to Filthaut. Personius told Campbell that her car had to be moved to another parking lot four blocks away.
"The logical explanation for her odd insistence on moving her car would be to get Campbell to drive it, knowing Sergeant Fernandez was laying in wait," William Loughery with the state's attorney office wrote in his July 26 investigative report. "Based upon Personius' drinking history, it is likely she was feigning intoxication to play upon Campbell's responsible nature."
Campbell believed he was fine to drive the short distance, but she was not. So just before 10pm, he drove Personius and her Nissan toward the nearby lot, only to be pulled over. The state prosecutor concluded there was not enough evidence that Campbell was drunk that night based on eyewitness testimony, a review of the dashcam video, and a pharmacology report that concluded after having six drinks and dinner his blood alcohol content was likely no more than 0.04, which is well below the legal limit.
Sergeant Fernandez has been involved in other questionable DUI arrests. In February, he stopped a sober man, Albert Fox, and arrested him for DUI. In police reports, Sergeant Fernandez claimed that Fox smelled of alcohol, slurred his speech and had glassy eyes. Nonetheless, Fox passed the breathalyzer test with a 0.0 reading and a state lab found no drugs in a urine sample. Campbell's lawyer, John M. Fitzgibbons, suggests ticket quotas encourage the false arrests.
"A Tampa defense lawyer recently provided me with the personnel file of Officer Dean Uno of the DUI unit," Fitzgibbons wrote in an August 1 letter to the Tampa mayor. "Comments by superiors contain troublesome language strongly suggesting that there is a 'quota' for DUI unit officers."
The documents show that the officer was told to make 150 DUI related arrests with at least 40 percent of them self-initiated (that is, not responding to another officer's call).