Top DUI Deputy Fired; Convictions Questioned
TAMPA - Hillsborough County's top deputy for making DUI arrests was fired last month after an internal investigation found he might have sent innocent people to jail, according to documents. It's unclear what effect Daniel Brock's dismissal will have on any resolved or pending DUI cases he was involved with, said Mark Cox, a spokesman for Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark Ober. If the former deputy was the prosecution's sole witness, it could be a handicap, he said. 'We feel we're not in a position where we can use him as a witness,' Cox said. 'If he's a critical witness, it will be difficult for us to go forward with a case.'No DUI defendants arrested by Brock had as yet contacted the state attorney's office about dismissing their charges or having their convictions overturned, Cox said. He did not know how many of Brock's cases are still pending. 'If we're made aware of any problems, we'll examine those old cases on a case-by-case basis,' he said. The investigation has spread to Brock's supervisor, officials said. Much of Brock's personnel file at the sheriff's office is thick with commendations. He has earned awards for vigilance in removing impaired drivers from the roads. Supervisors praised Brock, 38, in annual performance reviews, calling him 'highly motivated' and a leader in arrests for driving under the influence. The most recent addition to the file was a dismissal form ending his 15 years on the job May 24. His written appeal was denied the next day. He Ignored Rules, Officials Say Officials said Brock blatantly ignored the agency's standard operating procedures by not turning in DUI reports at the end of his shift, by writing the reports days afterward from memory rather than using field notes, and by conducting DUI investigations while having another suspect in his patrol car. From October 2005 to October 2006, Brock arrested 313 motorists for allegedly driving while impaired, officials said. In 40 percent of those instances, he did not use his in-car video camera. Even when he did record a video, his report sometimes conflicted with evidence on the tape, officials said. On Oct. 25, 2005, Brock noted that a defendant with a .01 percent blood alcohol content had trouble walking, lost her balance and could not perform field sobriety tests adequately. The video of the arrest showed differently, officials said. The woman did not lose her balance and did not show signs of impairment. In Florida, a driver is considered to be impaired with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher. 'I don't prescribe to the theory that somehow you have to be .08 to be drunk or impaired,' Brock told investigators. Brock denied to investigators that he was trying to boost his arrest totals. The case was dropped by prosecutors after lab tests found no evidence of drugs in the woman's system. Sheriff's Chief Deputy Jose Docobo said that although Brock's termination is embarrassing, the important thing to realize is that the agency acted quickly to investigate and resolve the issue, and that it is not evidence of any systemic problem with department policies or procedures. 'The core at the failing was supervisory, which is being addressed,' Docobo said. 'There is a pending investigation into Brock's supervisor Cpl. Mark Clark. 'The supervisor failed to notice a pattern of a lack of video in these cases and to act on it and look into them,' Docobo said. Brock was hired in 1992 as a detention deputy. He has been a patrol deputy since 1996 and joined the agency's DUI enforcement unit four years ago, quickly becoming the highest producer of DUI arrests. Last year, a Hillsborough County mother filed a federal lawsuit against Brock, alleging he used excessive force in arresting her in 2002 after arresting her teenage son. Her petition said that after she cursed at him and another deputy, Brock threatened to arrest her and then forced his way into her house, shoved her down and pepper-sprayed her. The recent criminal investigation against Brock was launched when an assistant prosecutor with State Attorney Ober's office wrote a letter to the sheriff's office in October saying they no longer would accept testimony from Brock as a witness. Brock gained a reputation among prosecutors for providing weak cases with little or conflicting evidence. At least once, he wrote two versions of the same DUI arrest report, officials said. He sent prosecutors the second version, written from memory and without getting the approval of his supervisor. It constituted a misdemeanor for falsifying records. Prosecutors elected to forgo a criminal charge in lieu of the sheriff's administrative action. Initially, the sheriff's office planned to suspend him for seven days over the double-report matter. His removal as a potential witness in criminal cases, though, resulted in his being unable to perform the duties of a deputy and led to his firing, according to documents. After receiving the letter, sheriff's detectives audited a year's worth of Brock's DUI arrests - 313 cases - and the results alarmed them. In 58 arrests, the defendant blew a blood alcohol content below .08 percent. In 41 of those cases, no urine sample was drawn, despite agency policy. 'Out To The Next One' Brock told investigators he was like most deputies who often wrote affidavits while off duty or from memory, rather than at the end of a shift. He said he saw nothing wrong with that and said his arrests were legitimate. 'My goal is to go there, process the person and be gone, out to the next one,' he told investigators. Standard operating procedure of the sheriff's office, however, directs deputies to file reports by the end of a shift. Anybody who felt wrongfully arrested by Brock for DUI but was later convicted has few options to get the case overturned, said local lawyer Jeff Keel, who handles DUI cases. 'To open up a case that's already convicted is going to be very hard for people to accomplish.' He would not say it's impossible to have a case overturned, Keel said, 'but it's very, very difficult.' After a conviction is overturned, a defendant needs to obtain an 'order for expungement' from the circuit court to have an arrest report, including the online booking photo posted on the sheriff's Web site, essentially deleted from the records system, sheriff's spokesman J. D. Callaway said.
News Channel 8 reporter Samara Sodos and Tribune reporters Josh Poltilove and Andriy R. Pazuniak contributed to this report. Reporter Mike Wells can be reached at (813) 657-4534 or [email protected]