Tampa DUI Sergeant fired - WNCN: News, Weather

Tampa DUI Sergeant fired

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Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor said Friday the department fired Sgt. Ray Fernandez, the supervisor who initiated the controversial DUI stop of a Tampa attorney in January.

"I intended to have this case follow the normal investigative process, but as it has progressed, violations have been revealed that are alarming and require action now," Chief Castor said.

The FBI isn't finished investigating what led up to Fernandez stopping Tampa attorney Phil Campbell. But Castor said there's enough information available to know Fernandez was "misleading" about his contact with his friend in the hours before he stopped Campbell, who was involved in a high profile shock jock on January 23.

At that time Campbell was representing DJ Todd "M-J" Schnitt in his defamation lawsuit against Bubba the Love Sponge.

Investigations have revealed that Campbell was drinking that night at Malio's Steakhouse in downtown Tampa with Melissa Personius, a paralegal for the opposing firm of Adams & Diaco, which he apparently did not know. Around that time Chief Castor says Sgt. Fernandez started communicating with Adam Filthaut, a personal friend and also an attorney with Adams & Diaco.

After dozens of text messages between them, Sgt. Fernandez stopped Campbell and his assisting Officer Timothy S. McGinnis arrested him.

"Very recently I learned from the FBI investigation that Fernandez ... lied about his contact with Adam Filthaut after the arrest," Chief Castor said. "Sgt. Fernandez also showed his lack of integrity when he claimed that he accidentally deleted 96 text messages exchanged with his friend. Any teenager with a smart-phone can tell you this isn't possible."

Castor said she made the decision Friday because the FBI investigation is going to take much longer than she anticipated. The information brought to light to date in their investigation, she said, was enough for her "to end {Fernandez's} association with the Tampa Police Department now."

"I believe that Sgt. Fernandez got caught him in this close, personal relationship and he allowed that to affect his integrity," Chief Castor said. "Starting with how the initial tip was handled to the loss of evidence after the arrest."

Fernandez's attorney, however, feels that his client hasn't been given due process.

"I think he was wrongfully terminated. I think that he was unjustly terminated," Chip Purcell said.

As of Friday afternoon, Purcell said the police department had not made it clear exactly why it decided to let Fernandez go.

"You cannot show me any evidence that Sgt. Fernandez knew what Adam Filthaut and the Adams & Dioco law firm were up to. Absolutely no evidence," Purcell said.

Purcell claims that, at the time of the stop, both Officer McGinnis and Sgt. Fernandez thought a woman was at the wheel.

"This idea that they know or they're conspiring to stop the car simply because Phil Campbell is in it is wholly unsupported by any evidence whatsoever and it's just not true," Purcell said. "I would challenge the Chief of Police to answer this one question: If knowing from a credible source that a driver is drinking and driving and makes an unlawful turn across two lanes of traffic - and you see it - and you have all that information and you let that car run the next intersection and kill somebody - now what attitude to you want to take towards Sgt. Fernandez?"

The state attorney has since dropped the DUI-related charge against Campbell.

Purcell also said Fernandez was simply taking reliable information from a longtime friend of 15 years.

But the chief points to the fact that many of the texts between Fernandez and Filthaut were followed by a "flurry" of messages between the attorneys involved.

"I can't convey the level of disappointment that I felt when the FBI investigation revealed that Sgt. Fernandez's role was significantly more than he conveyed to me, the organization, and to the entire criminal justice system," Castor said. "The facts speak loud and clear and it is my job as the chief to ensure that we police ourselves in maintaining the highest level of integrity and that is exactly what I've done today."

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