Attorney asks independent counsel to investigate Tampa DUI unit - WFLA News Channel 8

Attorney asks independent counsel to investigate Tampa DUI unit

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An attorney for a man arrested for DUI in the midst of a high-profile trial between Tampa radio rivals is asking for a special independent counsel to be appointed to investigate the DUI unit of the Tampa Police Department after allegations of a set-up.

The request comes after Pinellas and Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe announced this week that he would not pursue charges against attorney Phil Campbell, saying "we would be unable to sustain a successful prosecution."

Colleagues of Campbell, who represented Todd "MJ" Schnitt in his lawsuit against radio rival Bubba "The Love Sponge" Clem, have long claimed the arrest was a set-up orchestrated by people with the law firm Campbell was going up against in the trial.

The tip about Campbell that night came to Tampa Police Sgt. Raymond Fernandez, supervising the DUI unit, from a personal friend who is a lawyer with the opposing law firm.

John Fitzgibbons, who represents Campbell,  sent a hand-delivered letter to Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn on Thursday, laying out concerns about the Campbell case and other issues including tips to officers from personal friends and the availability of dashcam video.

"Six months have passed since Mr. Campbell was arrested," Fitzgibbons said at a news conference at his office. "So my question is, ‘What has the city of Tampa and what has the Tampa Police Department done to address this scandal, and the troublesome answer is virtually nothing."

In her own news conference later Thursday afternoon, Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor said a special independent counsel is not needed. The incident is already under investigation by the FBI.   

"The FBI is doing a very thorough investigation and there is no need for any independent counsel," Castor said.

Fernandez has been temporarily reassigned and Castor has said he should have removed himself from the investigation. She also said when she learned Fernandez had exchanged 92 texts with his friend, Adam Filthaut, that night, "disappointment would be an understatement."

"We don't feel that he did this investigation based on that friendship, his goal was to get an impaired driver off the street," she said. "Did he show bad judgment on that? Clearly that's the case."

Campbell was arrested Jan. 23 after leaving Tampa restaurant Malio's. A paralegal who works for the law firm representing the other side in the trial was at the restaurant with him and Campbell was driving her car.

In his report, McCabe pointed to numerous texts and calls between the paralegal and others at the law firm, and between Filthaut and his friend Fernandez, saying there appeared to be a "collaboration" to "effectuate the arrest of Campbell."

In his letter to Castor and Buckhorn, Fitzgibbons suggested the special independent counsel be a lawyer with no ties to Tampa, "preferably a former Federal prosecutor experienced in corruption, civil rights and police procedures." He said the counsel should issue a report on his or her findings within 120 days.

A spokeswoman for Buckhorn said he was out of town and not available for comment.

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