National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

Officers Accused of Breaking Laws–Trespass, Perjury–to Make Cases

From the Tampa Bay Times:

LARGO — Hydroponic marijuana has cast a disturbing haze over Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri’s election campaign.

Narcotics detectives pursuing indoor pot farmers have been put on leave, accused of breaking the law and lying to judges. Prosecutors have had to drop charges.

Former Sheriff Everett Rice, who wants his old job back, has said this issue is one reason Gualtieri should be tossed from office.

Yet Rice had similar problems during his administration.

One detective from the Rice era (1988-2004) gathered evidence illegally then lied about it under oath. He also justified a search warrant by calling in his own “anonymous tip” that pot farming was afoot.

In another case, deputies secured a search warrant without revealing that a key tipster had an axe to grind: His wife was having an affair with the suspect.

Three Pinellas judges wiped out grow house cases because Rice’s detectives seriously distorted facts. One detective was prosecuted for perjury.

“We’ve been seeing this go on for decades,” said Largo lawyer John Trevena, who has defended pot growers under both sheriffs.

Rice came into office as a reformer, vowing to clean up corruption complaints against his predecessor. ….

Current allegations involve detectives who obtained search warrants by telling judges they stood on public sidewalks or in neighbors’ yards and detected the scent of indoor pot farms.

Defense lawyers theorized that deputies actually gathered evidence by illegally trespassing. One grower said his surveillance camera images of a narcotics sergeant vaulting his fence were seized, then erased.

Suspicions gathered steam after the Tampa Bay Times reported that one narcotics detective had refused to answer under oath when asked if his colleagues ever trespassed.

Gualtieri has put four deputies on leave while investigating and prosecutors have dropped 18 pending cases, compared with three during Rice’s time in office.

Problems within Gualtieri’s department are not limited to grow house warrants, Rice noted, citing reports about slipshod internal affairs investigations, deputies loafing on the job and possible theft.

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