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Monday, May 21, 2018
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Fired Tampa police detective argues to get job back

Fired Tampa police detective Eric Houston, who is under investigation by federal authorities in a wide-ranging identity theft and tax fraud case, argued to get his job back at a late Monday afternoon grievance hearing.

“We stated that Eric hasn’t been charged with anything or convicted of anything,” Houston’s Police Benevolent Association attorney, Owen Kohler, said Tuesday morning. “We haven’t received any information on what he is even being investigated for. And there are no guarantees that he ever will be charged.”

Houston was fired in April after the Tampa Police Department learned he was under investigation by federal officials, who, in court documents, accused Houston of pilfering personal information from victims, defendants and witnesses of homicide cases at the department and used that information in a tax-refund fraud scheme.

Houston, who has worked some of the more notable homicide cases in the city over the past several years, took his case to the department in a brief hearing Monday.

Kohler said the hearing was before Police Assistant Chief John Bennett, with other high- ranking officers sitting in. The department has 14 days in which to respond to the request for reinstatement.

Kohler said his client asked to be put back on the department’s payroll, though he would work administrative duty and not be involved in criminal cases. He had been placed on administrative duty prior to his firing.

“This is a pretty standard grievance procedure,” Kohler said. “What we do is present our case to the police department and say what we want and why we want it. They listened to us and indicated they understood everything we were saying.

“It’s an unusual case in the sense that he was terminated without being charged,” Kohler said. “In terms of the grievance process, it’s pretty typical of what we’ve done in the past.”

If the department denies the request for reinstatement, Houston can appeal the decision to the city, Kohler said.

Federal authorities are presenting their case against Houston to a federal grand jury and have hinted in documents that the investigation may stretch into September.

The ripple effect of the probe forced police and state prosecutors to review 21 cases in which Houston played an investigative role, including the case against Dontae Morris, convicted last year in the shooting deaths of two police officers, and Julie Schenecker, convicted a month ago in the murders of her two teenagers.

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