TAMPA, Fla. — Hillsborough County‘s state attorney is overturning 17 different cases after an internal investigation at the Tampa Police Department.
In April, three Tampa cops were fired and seven more were disciplined for failing to follow department procedures involving body cameras, filing arrest reports and collecting evidence.
“It’s about the failure to follow protocols,” said Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren.
The 17 cases, said Warren, included drug and weapons charges against known felons. The charges included possession of marijuana, possession of a controlled substance, possession of a firearm by a felon or a concealed firearm.
During the same investigation that led to the three TPD officers being terminated, prosecutors also dropped five open cases citing the same lack of credibility.
They are admittedly not the kind of cases prosecutors would choose to drop, but “Ultimately, we have lost confidence in the integrity of the convictions,” said Warren.
The problem, said Warren, is the cases were built entirely on the testimony of the three now-former Tampa police officers: Mark Landry, John Laretta and Algenis Maceo.
The officers are accused of not filing reports in cases that they considered too small to worry about. Dugan said they also repeatedly turned off their body cameras.
Prosecutors in Hillsborough’s recently-formed conviction review unit went back to January 2018, examining 225 cases where those officers were involved.
“Our obligation to pursue justice does not end when a case is closed,” Warren said. “As I’ve said before, one wrongful conviction is too many.”
Prosecutors say none of the cases involved victims, and none of the people convicted are currently serving time for those charges.
Still, Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan again called it an embarrassment for his department.
“You know, the only thing I can do to these officers is fire them,” said Dugan, “And that’s what we’ve done.”
The Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office is already reaching out to defense attorneys whose clients may have been involved and encouraging others who think their cases might also warrant review -- even those before January 2018 - to come forward.
Tampa Defense Attorney Ralph Fernandez, who represents one of the first defendants to see his charges dropped, predicts there will be more.
“Each time this issue comes up I say there’s more coming,” said Fernandez. “And as you can see there’s more coming. This is not the final day on this.”
Ironically, all 17 people whose convictions are being vacated had pleaded guilty. Nonetheless, Warren says this is about the integrity and credibility of our legal system.
“One wrongful conviction is too many,” said Warren. “To let any of these convictions stand would undermine what we stand for.”
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