Driver in video first thought deputy was welcome sight

"I was just in shock, " says a woman pulled from her car.

Published May 4, 2007

TAMPA -- When the cruiser's lights flashed in her rear-view mirror that night, Melissa Langston felt relieved.

"My first thought, as a woman, was 'Oh good, he's here.'" she said Thursday.

Late at night on Nov. 1, Langston, 37, was racing to University Community Hospital. Her father, William Johnston, had set off driving himself to the emergency room. He thought he was having a heart attack.

Desperate to find him, she feared he had collapsed along the way. So the deputy was a welcome sight.

"I knew he had dealt with people in distress, in labor, trying to get to their loved ones, " she said. He would know what to do.

'I was shocked'

Deputy Kevin Stabins, 29, walked up to her car in the hospital parking lot, and she told him her situation: "I'm in a big hurry. My father's having a heart attack."

Stabins did nothing to find out whether Johnston had reached the nearby emergency room. Instead, he simply began checking her driving record and writing her a speeding ticket.

"When he didn't listen to my story, " she said Thursday, "I sat there for three minutes weighing my options."

Finally, she decided she couldn't wait any longer, she said, and drove off to search the parking lot for her father's car.

"I just had to make sure he made it there. Otherwise he was just sitting on the side of the road somewhere dying."

Stabins quickly pulled her over again, yanked her car door open, got her in an arm lock and tried to drag her out.

But she had on her seat belt. the car was in drive, her foot on the brake. It started to roll as he tugged at her. "Put it in park. Put it in park, " he shouted.

"It happened so fast, I was just in shock. I was being pulled, trying to get the seat belt off, " she said. "I was afraid my car was going to run me over."

He got her out, whirled her around, slammed her against the car and handcuffed her.

Though Stabins later told superiors that he "assisted her out of the car, " investigators called it excessive force.

Even as Stabins put her in the cruiser, Langston worried about her father.

'Make it right'

Meanwhile, doctors worked on her father.

The worst part about it, " she said, was that "my dad knew I was supposed to be there. He jokingly said to my sister, 'What, is she being arrested or something?'"

When Langston's sister told him she was in the back of a squad car, "he got on the phone immediately trying to get someone to get to me, " Langston said.

"The doctor had to take the phone and say, 'You can't do this. I'm trying to stabilize you.'"

On the cruiser's videotape, another deputy asked Stabins what happened. "Is her father really in the hospital?"

"I don't know, " he replied. "But she drives right by the f---ing emergency room when I stop her."

One of the deputies went into the hospital to check, but Stabins was unmoved when Langston's story proved true.

"That was a good point for him, in my mind, ... to make it right, " she said, "to take me to my dad."

Sobbing in jail

When Langston realized he still planned to take her to jail, "it was torture to me."

Locked in a cell, she sobbed and worried until she was released about 4:30 a.m.

"It was a terrible experience, " Langston said.

Langston's mother waited at the jail for her to be freed. Her sister stayed with their father.

Back at the hospital, doctors inserted two stents to aid the blood flow to William Johnston's heart, and he survived.

When she got out, his daughter rushed to his bedside.

"I really don't like to think what would have happened if things wouldn't have been okay, " she said. "If I never saw him again."

Langston said she didn't file a complaint with the Sheriff's Office. She assumed Stabins was a rookie. "I did nothing. Internal Affairs contacted me. I just wanted it to go away."

'One bad judgment'

Langston commended the Sheriff's Office for its response to the incident. She had been charged with fleeing arrest, a felony, and that was dropped two days after she was jailed.

"They made a bad situation as good as they could, " she said. "One bad judgment call shouldn't spoil the whole sheriff's department."

Stabins, who has been a full time Hillsborough deputy for four years, was suspended a week without pay.

He could not be reached for comment.

She said he has not apologized. Stabins told investigators in December that he thought he had handled the arrest correctly.

And she never got back her driver's license, after going to the Sheriff's Office to ask about it.

"I went and got a new one, " she said.

Stabins told investigators he had found it while cleaning out his cruiser more than a month after the arrest, and turned it in with other seized licenses.

Another instance

John K. Faulkner of Dunedin also had a run-in with Stabins.

Faulkner, 46, was at a Tampa Bay Bucs game last November when he noticed a fight between fans. He motioned for law enforcement officers nearby.

Then, he said, he noticed Stabins speaking roughly with a woman. He tried to intervene.

Stabins told him to go back to his seat, according to an incident report.

When Faulkner requested his name and badge number, Stabins took him to the ground, hitting his head against the concrete, said Faulkner's attorney, John Trevena.

The deputy arrested Faulkner on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest without violence.

Trevena convinced the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office to drop the charges. He told his client not to bother filing a complaint against Stabins.

But Faulkner decided to file one after seeing Stabins' videotaped arrest of Langston on TV.

"The guy's really a danger, " Trevena said. "It wasn't an isolated incident."

Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Colleen Jenkins contributed to this report. Michael A. Mohammed can be reached at mmohammed@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3404.