Tampa Police Department's worst moments of 2021

And the city still can't get a citizen's review board with teeth.

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click to enlarge Tampa Police Department Headquarters. - Photo by Dave Decker
Photo by Dave Decker
Tampa Police Department Headquarters.
The Tampa Police Department (TPD) was put in the national spotlight this year for its controversial crime-free multi housing program, but that wasn't the only thing keeping eyes on our local cops.

The department, which has used about 40% of City of Tampa funding in recent years, were in Creative Loafing and other news outlet's headlines for rough reasons, sometimes for multiple scandals a month.

Here's a run down of some of the dumbest things that happened at TPD, which all followed a year of activists calling for change during the George Floyd uprising:

Tampa man wrongfully imprisoned for 37 years sues TPD officers for falsifying evidence
A man who spent 37 years in prison after the Tampa Police Department falsified evidence against him is now suing four TPD officers and an “expert witness” for damages. DuBoise was just 18 when he was arrested in 1983 after four TPD officers allegedly conspired to falsify evidence against him in order to wrongfully convict him of murder and rape. From the day of his arrest until his release last year, Robert DuBoise consistently maintained his innocence. “The only physical evidence against him was faked 'bite mark' evidence that allegedly pointed to DuBoise as the culprit. The scientific validity of bite marks as evidence has been thoroughly discredited in recent years, and in DuBoise's case, the bite marks on the victim turned out to not even be produced by a human,” says a press release sent out Monday.
Newly emerged expert report alleges 'cover-up' in 2014 fatal Tampa police drug raid
Five years ago, former DEA agent Michael Levine, an internationally recognized policing expert and investigative author, submitted an expert report that fully condemned Tampa Police Department (TPD) for its controversial 2014 SWAT raid that ended in the death of Jason Westcott. Westcott was 29 years old when the TPD SWAT team brought a military-style vehicle and tactical response trailer to his home on W Knollwood Street near Lowry Park Zoo, where he lived with his boyfriend. Armored police pulled into Westcott’s neighborhood at night and broke into his home to search for drugs. Moments later, Westcott was shot to death by police. According to TPD records within Levine's report, after Westcott was killed, the police found .02 grams of marijuana in his house.
'Blow the money and have fun': Tampa police officers spent department money on drinks, strippers and gold teeth
Documents obtained by CL showed that in January of 2020, officers from the Tampa Police Department (TPD) went on what they said was going to be an undercover investigation at a Tampa strip club. After several drinks, lap dances for every officer, and spending over $400, no new evidence came up. TPD’s Internal Affairs Unit later discovered that $300 in department funds were used to buy gold teeth for an officer. Ultimately, the internal affairs investigation found multiple violations of police policy, which led to one officer being fired.
A Tampa protester marched for Black lives and due to false charges from TPD, faced up to five years in prison

After Tampa police attacked peaceful protesters for marching on Dale Mabry in July of 2020, they sought charges of battery on a law enforcement officer against Jamie Bullock, despite having no evidence of the crime.
When Jamie Bullock was arrested during a Black Lives Matter march on the Fourth Of July last year, she cried uncontrollably for around 10 minutes as she sat in the backseat of a Tampa Police Department squad car. A friend, who was also arrested, sat next to her in the car and tried to console her. But the outpouring of grief from the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the police-related death of her own brother, flowed down her cheeks uncontrollably.
During the trial, the state attorney filed a motion in limine to try to silence any talk of the constitutional right to free speech and the right to assemble, as well as police behavior the day Bullock was arrested and during the George Floyd uprising. On top of all this, the police were caught trying to pin charges on protesters the day Bullock was arrested.
As protesters face an upcoming trial from arrests during a Black Lives Matter march last Fourth of July, video obtained by Creative Loafing Tampa Bay shows that a Tampa police officer encouraged fellow cops to “try to get charges” on protesters during the protest. Seven people were arrested that day, and the new footage calls into question arresting officers' motives behind their interaction with protesters.
Bullock stood her ground, however, and the state dropped charges against her, citing a lack of evidence to prosecute.

Bodycam footage showed Tampa police clearing bus shelter where houseless people took cover from rain
...a summer storm passed through Tampa, and an estimated 30 houseless people sought refuge under two large bus shelters in downtown. They rested and ate dinner under the shelters near the corner of N Marion and E Tyler Street, until five responding units from the Tampa Police Department (TPD) arrived to move them from the property. TPD bodycam footage obtained by Creative Loafing Tampa Bay shows one of the responding officers—whose bodycam footage begins after people are already being dispersed—approach a sleeping person on a bench, lean in to make contact, and tell them, “You gotta go.”
TPD's controversial crime free multi-housing debacle

After the Times released an investigation highlighting how TPD helped targeted mainly Black renters for eviction since 2013, the floodgates opened and news spread around the country. CL talked to Yale professor Jason Stanley, author of "How Fascism Works" who condemned the program, especially the likening of criminals to "weeds".
Stanley calls this language “extraordinarily dehumanizing.” “No police department should be using this language about people in their city,” Stanley tells Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. Stanley wrote the books “How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them” and “How Propaganda Works.” “Calling human beings weeds is pre-genocidal,” he tells CL. What he means by pre-genocidal is that before any act of violence or ostracizing of a certain group of people, there is, “a need to legitimize treating them in a way that you shouldn’t treat citizens who you're sworn to protect,” Stanley says
After getting caught in the scandal, TPD and the City of Tampa worked hard to spin the story So much so that TPD drove supporters to Tampa city council meeting to speak in favor of the program.

When confronted about it during the council meeting, TPD interim police chief Butch Delgado said he didn't know of TPD shuttling anyone to council, but CL found that TPD did indeed shuttle people to the meeting to speak positively about crime-free.
But outside, photos taken by Creative Loafing Tampa Bay show a TPD officer walking someone who spoke in favor of keeping the program back to the police department car lot. And while CL was interviewing Lorine Wright, who also spoke in favor of the program at the meeting, TPD Public Safety Information Coordinator Jamel Lanee came out of city hall to give her a ride home. Wright, who TPD also tapped for a Twitter post earlier this month to defend the program, told CL that Lanee contacted her via phone call to speak in favor of the program at today’s meeting. Wright said she asked TPD what she should talk about in regard to the program, adding that she was guided by the department on how to discuss the way her community has been affected by the crime-free housing program.
After failing to spin the story, TPD gave in and announced a new program in its place. But the department refused to admit it was changing, rather an "expansion" even though the name and key aspects of the program were said to be changing. This left many who spoke at city council skeptical.

Tampa's Metro Rapid bus seats were removed, and HART says TPD requested their removal
The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) is reinstalling Tampa's Metro Rapid bus seats this week, after Creative Loafing Loafing Tampa Bay published an article about the missing seats last week. Both HART and Hillsborough County Commissioner Mariella Smith said that in February 2020, Tampa Police Department (TPD) requested that the seats be removed. Nikki Frenney, Director of Communications and Marketing for HART, says she believes TPD citied what it called general crimes that had occurred at the stops such as loitering, vandalism and drug dealing as reasoning for their removal. She told CL that seats should be reinstalled by the end of the week.
However, the city is still waiting for its bus seats back.

Investigators wanted Creative Loafing Tampa Bay to share information about protesters for a TPD case.

Hillsborough's top cop State Attorney Andrew Warren asked CL for information about a George Floyd protester a photographer snapped a photo of during a protest. The request came from a TPD investigation passed on to SAO13. CL did not give that information to the police, as there was no legal obligation to do so.
Investigators wanted our photographer to certify what time and date a photo published in CL was taken, confirmation that they indeed took the photo and whether or not they know the subject in the photo. After consulting a handful of journalism organizations and Tampa lawyer Joshua Sheridan, it was CL’s opinion that our photographer was under no legal obligation to sign the affidavit, so they declined. CL then retained Sheridan—a past story source and subject who we’ll no longer write about to prevent a conflict of interest—to assist our photographer in their dealings with prosecutors. A couple weeks later the photographer received a subpoena to testify virtually on Feb. 25. In response, Sheridan filed a motion for protective order on behalf of our photographer.
In run up to anniversary of George Floyd's death, former police chief Dugan said he didn't plan on changing the way police in Tampa operate.
On May 18, Dugan sat on an ACLU panel to talk about the effects of HB-1 on the Tampa Bay community. [Dream Defenders organizer Bernice] Lauredan says that during the meeting, Dugan made it clear that he doesn’t plan on changing the way policing operates in Tampa. “I was surprised at Dugan saying they didn't plan to change how they police, because we know how they were very violent last year,” says Lauredan. She’s referring to a statement made by Dugan about the law during the meeting, saying that he is not sure what DeSantis was trying to accomplish with HB-1, saying that, “I’m not sure it really changes our philosophy on how we’re going to deal with people in these situations.” He included that the Tampa police have always worked with protesters, and that they will continue to, despite several incidents last year where the police initiated violence toward protesters.
After a contentious three years, Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan retired

Brian Dugan's time as chief of police in Tampa was marred by lies (including a whopper to Fox News) and excessive use of force against Black and Brown protesters. He retired in September of this year.
After chief Eric Ward’s departure in 2017, Dugan was appointed interim chief of police by former Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, and was at the helm when the accused Seminole Heights serial killer was arrested after a McDonald’s employee cracked the case. In the years that followed, specifically from 2017 to 2019, Dugan’s department witnessed a 24% increase in use of force during arrests, and a 223% increase in the use of chemical agents. Last year, TPD also saw significant increases in use of force, including a 28% increase in officers pointing their guns at people...Over the last year of protests, Dugan consistently lamented to the press that his job was hard and that the morale at his department was low.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that on his way out, Tampa's former police Chief Dugan sent some petty texts to a city council member for liking an activists' Tweet.
Police Chief Brian Dugan is a short-timer. And he appears to be using some of it to speak his mind. Consider a recent late July text exchange between Dugan and City Council member Bill Carlson. The thread shows the retiring chief isn’t holding back on his biggest critic on council. And Carlson didn’t spare Dugan his opinion of the chief’s time at the helm of the Tampa Police Department. Not surprisingly, it all began on Twitter.
A year later, Tampa's "Back the Blue" mural remains, and TPD didn't do much of an investigation into the muralists who illegally painted it.

Tampa's most embarrassing, ugly, illegal mural is meant to read "Back the Blue" but instead looks more like "Bock the Blub." And it's still there a year later, despite artists and community members speaking out against its repulsive presence. And it turns out TPD didn't do much of an investigation into the people that illegally painted it.
Creative Loafing Tampa Bay obtained a copy of TPD’s now closed investigation. According to the document, in the days that followed the painting, officers approached and spoke to some of the “Back the Blue” muralists identified through police cameras, news interviews, photos, and posts on social media where muralists identified themselves and others as participating in the illegal painting of the mural. Multiple suspects the officers made contact with in person and over the phone declined to speak with officers until they had an attorney present. No one was taken into custody or given a citation and the officers closed their involvement in the investigation.
Tampa police department roasted for spreading 'bullshit' Halloween marijuana myth
“Do not get tricked while you’re getting treats!” Tampa Police Department (TPD) posted to Twitter on Oct. 30. The post claimed that Tampa Police squad 363 served a search warrant in the area of W Kennedy and S Fielding Avenues and seized 380 pounds of edible marijuana packaged in Halloween candy packages. “Be cautious of who you receive candy from. Stay safe!” TPD wrote. Below the text, a picture of what looks like the Halloween candy the department claimed to be edibles. Then, the comments started pouring in.

“Guys….give us a break. Nobody is giving away free drug laced candy,” one commenter wrote. “Focus on real issues like ending your program that kicks people out of their homes and onto the street.”
Daily News says Black TPD cop who was fired by the department for using the N-word got his job back
A Black cop who was fired from a Florida police department for using the N-word is back on the job this week after officials determined the punishment was too harsh. Delvin White, a beloved school resource officer at Tampa’s Middleton High School, was canned in March after an audit of his body-worn camera turned up at least two videos showing him using the racial slur in November 2020, according to police.
Tampa said it would fine people who ignored Super Bowl mask mandate, but zero citations were issued

At the time, during the height of the pandemic, TPD chief Dugan said TPD did not want to the the "mask police."
Despite the threat of an executive order carrying a $500 fine and a civil infraction, the City of Tampa said zero people were cited for not wearing masks in the city’s “Entertainment Zones” during Super Bowl 55. “There were no citations issued to individuals for not wearing masks,” Keith O’Connor, a spokesperson for the City of Tampa, told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. “We educated and encouraged everyone we came in contact with that were not wearing masks to wear them. In the days leading up to the Super Bowl the city gave out over 200,000 masks and the majority of the people were receptive to this and complied.”
Mayor Castor and TPD supported Cuban government protesters, in a stark contrast to how they treated BLM protesters the year before.

Police blocked off the streets for the Cuban government protesters, while Mayor Castor marched with them.
...Tampa Mayor Jane Castor publicly supported Cuban protesters in a video and followed that up by attending Saturday’s ‘support Cuba rally’ in West Tampa. This left protesters from the George Floyd uprising wondering why their protests were treated so differently.
Officials continued to defend the city's "monument to genocide," but cops finally stopped trying to keep protesters from gathering around Tampa's Christopher Columbus statue

This one is a collab between the City of Tampa and TPD. In 2020, TPD defended Tampa's Columbus statue from protesters who had covered it in fake blood during a tense stand-off. In 2021, protesters again protested the statue, decrying the city for not taking it down. TPD was nowhere to be found this year. Columbus did not discover America, was a pedophile and fed Native babies to dogs.

After community outcry against bloated police budgets, Tampa's police budget grew more than any other major U.S. city.

Under the leadership of Mayor Jane Castor (formerly Tampa's police chief) TPD's budget grew, despite community outcry.
Last year, following the police murders of Black Americans such as George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, calls to “defund the police” were prevalent in just about every major city in the nation. Consequently, many of the U.S.' 50 largest metros responded to this movement by reducing police budgets—except for a handful of cities like Tampa. A recent Bloomberg report found that the city of Tampa had increased its police department budget by 8.6% for the fiscal year of 2021. Based on CityLab data, this was the largest police budget increase among all 50 cities included in the analysis, followed by Fresno, California; San Diego; Sacramento; and Atlanta.
The city refused to make changes to a citizen's review board that could hold TPD accountable for their issues.

This one falls on the shoulders of the city and the police, but the call for changes to Tampa's toothless citizen review board was in response to rampant police problems, and the lack of accountability from the review board. Spoiler alert—significant changes to the review board never happened.
After more than five years of advocating for a Citizens Review Board with teeth, criminal justice reform advocates with Tampa for Justice, the NAACP, and the Greater Tampa Chapter of the ACLU are still calling on the city council to strengthen the demands of a draft CRB ordinance in order to enhance community trust in local police oversight and override the impassioned opposition to change coming from Tampa’s police union and its allies. On Monday, the local American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) chapter emailed proposed changes to the ordinance—crafted by the city’s legal team, and up for discussion by the city council this Thursday—to all city councilmembers in an effort to ensure the integrity and efficiency of the reform process.
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About The Author

Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia has written for The Nation, Investigative Reporters & Editors Journal, the USA Today Network and various other news outlets. When he's not writing, Justin likes to make music, read, play basketball and spend time with loved ones. 

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