Skip to comments.Polk County Deputy Violated Policy in DUI Cases
Posted on 12/31/2009 6:46:40 PM PST by elkfersupper
DUI Charges Against 54 Dropped Prosecutors say a Polk County sheriff's deputy may have taken shortcuts in handling investigations. By Jason Geary THE LEDGER
Prosecutors have abandoned charges against 54 people accused of driving under the influence, citing concerns about a deputy's shortcuts in writing reports and conducting blood alcohol tests.
Deputy Tex Thomas has made about 124 arrests for DUI since he began working last year for the Polk County Sheriff's Office.
In a deposition, Thomas spoke about preparing reports by cutting-and-pasting words from previous DUI reports as a "template" rather than starting with a blank page.
Prosecutors also were concerned about how Thomas conducted breath tests.
The State Attorney's Office opted not to file charges against 50 suspects and dropped charges on four others. The cases stretch from last October through early July. Prosecutors starting dropping the cases last month.
Assistant State Attorney Hope Pattey said prosecutors must ensure rules and procedures are being followed.
"When we see that shortcuts are taken or procedures are not followed, we have an obligation to do what's right," she said. "That's what we did here."
Law enforcement officers must observe DUI suspects for 20 minutes before a breath sample is taken to make sure the suspects aren't belching, vomiting, or ingesting anything that might impact the test.
Pattey said Thomas admitted to factoring the amount of time that it took to drive a DUI suspect to a location to give a breath sample as part of the preferred face-to-face observation period.
"He admitted that he had done it," she said. "We drew the conclusion that if he had done it in one case then he had done it in all of them."
Court records show that 37 of the defendants in the discarded cases agreed to blood alcohol testing.
Twenty-two defendants were recorded as being more than double the .08 threshold at which a driver in Florida is presumed intoxicated.
Thomas, 27, who became a Polk County deputy in February 2008, earns a yearly salary of $40,916, records show.
The Polk County Sheriff's Office has not disciplined Thomas, but there is an ongoing internal investigation.
"At this point, it would be way premature to say that Deputy Thomas has done anything inappropriate," said Gary Hester, chief of staff at the Sheriff's Office.
"The purpose of the administrative investigation at this point is to ferret out what the facts are and what's fiction," he said. "If there are issues that need to be addressed, then we'll address them."
Hester said the sheer number of cases that prosecutors dropped is what makes the situation significant.
"I guess in some ways what's made it newsworthy is he is very motivated, worked very hard and went out trying to get drunk drivers off the road," Hester said.
Thomas has been reassigned from DUI enforcement to patrol, but he is still able to make DUI arrests.
His personnel file includes past evaluations that he was "performing exceptionally well" in the DUI Enforcement Squad.
A comment on his July 9, 2008 review described Thomas as consistently producing "neat and accurate work, which sets an example for his peers."
Thomas served about three years as a deputy with the Highlands County Sheriff's Office and another three years prior to that as a police officer in Eagle Lake.
Hester said some information about Thomas' handling of DUI arrests has come from defense lawyers "who get paid to create illusions and problems in cases."
"That's what people pay them good money to do," Hester said. "So what we've got to do is ferret out what part of that has come from the defense bar and is backed up by facts and what part of it are defense theories that they would advocate."
Court records show that more than a dozen of the defendants whose cases were abandoned were represented by the Public Defender's Office.
Public Defender J. Marion Moorman said his lawyers, along with private defense lawyers, began to "put their heads together, compared notes, and came up with notes that looked awfully similar."
Moorman praised the State Attorney's Office for looking into the matter and listening to concerns about the similarities.
In a June 19 deposition, Thomas explained that he did not have formal training in writing DUI reports.
He said he developed a "template" from his years of experience doing DUI enforcement.
Thomas said he would take a previous DUI report, delete the top portion, and fill in the new scenario for the new traffic stop.
Thomas said he would use the same language when talking about the field sobriety tasks, but would fill in how each person performed.
Thomas was asked to explain how one defendant's last name was left in the report of another defendant.
"An oversight on my part as far as not taking the name out and hurrying through the report itself," he said.
Thomas said he changed his report-writing method in February at the direction of a supervisor.
"I start with a blank page," he said. "Then it goes from memory."
[ Jason Geary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 863-802-7536. ]
MADD and the NHTSA wrote the script and the revenue-enhancement officers follow it.
I take it you haven’t been hit by a drunk driver.
Surely you’re not going to use emotion against reason are you?
Hmmm... the law shouldn’t file reports using boilerplate... save that for answering RFPs/RFQs/etc.