tampabay.com

DUI deputy may have wrongly jailed dozens

He's fired after an internal affairs investigation.

By CASEY CORA
Published June 15, 2007


TAMPA - Daniel Brock won high praise for jailing impaired motorists. Mothers Against Drunk Driving honored him. So did his bosses.

But one of Hillsborough County's most aggressive DUI deputies may have wrongly sent dozens of people to jail, the Sheriff's Office acknowledged Thursday.

The agency fired Brock on May 24.

In one year, Brock arrested 58 people whose blood-alcohol content was below 0.08, the level at which state law presumes a driver is impaired, an internal affairs audit showed.

"I don't prescribe to the theory that somehow you have to be 0.08 to be drunk or impaired, " Brock, 38, told investigators.

A driver may be charged with DUI if the blood-alcohol level is between 0.05 and 0.08 percent, but there must be other evidence of impairment, such as a swerving vehicle.

In 43 of those 58 cases, motorists demonstrated no visible impairment behind the wheel, according to an internal affairs report made public Thursday. In 41 arrests, Brock also failed to make a case with urine samples, the report states.

Repeatedly, investigators found Brock reported failures in field sobriety tests when his patrol car video camera documented the opposite. He wrote, for instance, that a driver on Oct. 25, 2005, lost balance while turning. The video of the encounter showed that wasn't the case. The driver blew a 0.01 in the breath test but was arrested anyway.

He said drivers incorrectly recited the alphabet, used arms for balance and slurred speech - when the video showed correct alphabets, perfect balance and clear speech.

Brock told investigators he believed the drivers were all impaired.

"My goal is to go there, process the person and be gone, out to the next one, " he said.

Records show he pulled people over on DUI stops 17 times while his cruiser was occupied with other prisoners. That's against procedure.

He routinely filed arrest reports days, even weeks, after making an arrest. He told internal affairs Detective Bruce Crumpler that he always reported the results of field sobriety tests based on memory.

Wouldn't that leave room for errors, Crumpler asked?

"Well, there's room for error, " Brock told Crumpler. "I've never had a problem."

His paperwork became the subject of scorn at the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office, where prosecutors said the deputy tarnished his reputation by filing inaccurate arrest reports that lacked important details.

"He doesn't have a very good reputation for being a very good DUI officer that we care to work with, " prosecutor Jennifer Gabbard told Crumpler. "It's almost like whatever you can do to make it look like you're arresting people."

From October 2005 to October 2006, Brock made 313 arrests for driving under the influence.

He failed to activate his cruiser's audio and video equipment in 40 percent of his stops, instead relying on his "wrought memory" to recall important arrest details, the audit showed.

Within the Sheriff's Office, Deputy Brock previously had been praised for his "outstanding professional service" and was consistently recommended for raises. His superiors rated his performance "satisfactory" and called him a credit to the office.

He was lauded as a dedicated deputy who spoke to high school students about the perils of impaired driving.

"We always felt he was a good officer, " said Becky Gage, 55, the victim advocate for Hillsborough's MADD chapter. "As long as officers are within the scope of the law, then we support their efforts to remove impaired drivers."

But there were a few bumps in the road.

He was suspended and sent to driving school in 2000 after a string of what the Sheriff's Office deemed avoidable traffic accidents.

In 2006, he was named in a federal lawsuit alleging that he physically attacked the mother of a teenage boy he arrested in 2002. The Hillsborough County woman said Brock forced himself into her home, pushed her into a corner and sprayed her with pepper spray. The lawsuit is unresolved.

During the recent internal affairs investigation, Brock denied trying to boost numbers for personal recognition.

It was unclear Thursday whether Brock intends to appeal his firing.

He told investigators that given the chance, he would conduct his DUI stops the same way.

Said Brock: "I mean, perfect world, we need more deputies and fewer people."

Casey Cora can be reached at 813 226-3386 or at ccora@sptimes.com