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In Tampa, Florida, Validity Of DUI Arrests Called Into Question

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Police officers don't have it easy. Many risk their lives every day. Few get paid what they're worth. And much of the public eyes them with suspicion, as if the police are the bad guys instead of the guys hired to catch the bad guys.

Reports of police corruption don't make things any easier. A couple of years ago, for example, an officer in New Orleans, Louisiana was arrested for issuing 215 "phantom" citations to generate extra income for himself.

And several hundred miles to the east, we now hear that an officer in Tampa, Florida has been fired for staging an elaborate DUI arrest -- one of many that may have been carried out under his watch.

The officer in question is Sergeant Ray Fernandez. The details of the case are complex, involving a steakhouse stakeout, a high-stakes courtroom battle, and one Bubba the Love Sponge. 

The gist is that Fernandez's friend, Adam Filthaut, was representing Bubba (Mr. Sponge?) in a defamation lawsuit. It seems that Filthaut was worried about his chances of winning, so he wanted Fernandez to arrest C. Philip Campbell Jr., the lawyer for the other side.

Filthaut knew that Campbell dined regularly at a local steakhouse. A legal assistant from Filthaut's law firm went to the steakhouse one night to flirt with Campbell and engage him in conversation. At the bar, the two consumed a number of drinks before deciding to hit the road.

The idea was that Campbell would drive the legal assistant home, and he would be so hammered from his time at the bar that he'd be an easy DUI arrest. Unfortunately for Fernandez, the plan hit one big snag: Campbell didn't drive to the steakhouse because he lived just two blocks away.

Campbell offered to put the legal assistant in a cab so she wouldn't have to drive home drunk. The assistant then made up an excuse about needing to move her car from the parking garage, which ultimately led to Campbell driving a few blocks. That's when Fernandez pounced, arresting Campbell for DUI -- though it appears that Campbell either refused to take a breath test or Fernandez didn't give one, because there's no real record of Campbell's true blood alcohol content. Ultimately, the state attorney's office cleared Campbell of any wrongdoing and determined that Fernandez had worked with Filthaut's law firm to stage the whole thing.

But wait, there's more: Fernandez is accused of issuing other fake DUIs, too. And the investigations of those cases turned up evidence to suggest that Tampa's DUI unit was given arrest quotas, which would cast doubt on the veracity of Fernandez's other arrests and those made by his peers. Yeesh.

In our experience, Fernandez's story is the exception, not the rule -- but hey, it'll probably make for an interesting Lifetime movie.

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