tampabay.com

Time in jail tops off his resume

He isn't hiding from his criminal record, he says. Rather, he wants to use it as an example of the problems faced by minorities in his district.

By ALEXANDRA ZAYAS
Published March 21, 2006


TAMPA - To win a seat in the Florida House of Representatives, Jose N. Vazquez has to prevail in a primary with fellow Democrats and then the general election.

But first he has to get through his criminal trial.

Vazquez, 32, was arrested in November - about three weeks before he filed to run for the District 58 seat - and was accused of punching his live-in girlfriend twice in the face. A criminal report affidavit states that during an argument, Vazquez also broke their television set, chased her into the front yard and restrained her with handcuffs he has from his security job.

He was charged with false imprisonment and battery, and was released from jail on $3,000 bail. His jury trial is set for May 8 in Hillsborough Circuit Court.

Vazquez denies hitting his girlfriend, breaking the television or window. In a telephone interview Friday, he said the police jumped to conclusions before his arrest.

"Everybody has misunderstood my case," he said.

Vazquez, who filed for the seat in December, says he is running for the state House in part to do something about violence in his district. He also has plans to improve community housing and medical welfare and combat prejudice against Hispanics and poor people. He says life is better in his native Puerto Rico.

In Tampa, he provides security consulting to nightclubs.

Of the November incident, Vazquez said he called police when his girlfriend, Wanda Shepard, had a "nervous crisis," and when the police arrived, they arrested Vazquez without interviewing him.

Shepard, 44, backed his story. She said her emotional breakdown caused the argument, and that Vazquez handcuffed her to keep her from leaving the house. She admits it's weird, but she denies it was domestic violence. She said they have tried to get the charges dropped.

"It just looked bad," Shepard said, and added that while they are still a couple, they are now living separately. She said she supports Vazquez in his campaign.

This is not Vazquez's first arrest. He has been arrested multiple times since he came to Tampa in December 1999 to care for his father, who was dying of lung cancer.

He was first arrested two months after he arrived, on charges of criminal mischief and reckless driving.

He was convicted of both charges, and sentenced to three days in county jail, six months of probation and community service, court records show.

Shepard said Vazquez was grieving the death of his father when he committed those crimes.

He was arrested again in 2001 and later convicted of carrying a concealed firearm without the appropriate permit. Vazquez was sentenced to 364 days in jail, more community service and more probation.

Vazquez said he has a permit for his job as a security consultant, but he was caught carrying the gun while he was off duty.

His next three arrests dealt with driving without a license and carrying a concealed weapon. Shepard said English is Vazquez's second language, and he often has difficulty explaining himself to law enforcement when they pull him over.

Vazquez is not hiding from his criminal record. He said he is using it as an example of the problems faced by minorities in his district.

"That's the reason I'm running," Vazquez said. "So they stop prosecuting innocent people, and so they try to (live) a better life."

Vazquez is one of three Democrats who have filed for the seat. The others are Michael Scionti and Daniel Suarez. One Republican, Alfred Ruiz, has filed.

--Alexandra Zayas can be reached at 813 226-3354 or azayas@sptimes.com