Before multiple charges, deputy was commended

By JUSTIN GEORGE and CASEY CORA, Times Staff Writer
Published January 11, 2008

TAMPA - Deputy Stuart Bell helped mentally and physically challenged residents when a deadly fire struck their assisted living center.

At a traffic crash, he stabilized a child's head and neck, possibly saving his life. And a traffic stop of his led to four burglaries being cleared.

But on Oct. 27, 2001, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's veteran posed in uniform for photographs with scantily clad women, including one in which he is holding a woman's skirt up, exposing her rear, according to records.

Bell's personnel file provides a rough analysis of his nine-year career, one marked by several commendations, along with a few careless slipups, such as when he had his vehicle privileges revoked for 10 days in 1999 after being involved in a car crash regarded by the department as avoidable.

On Wednesday fellow deputies arrested Bell, 33, after internal affairs detectives concluded that he stole prescription bottles from a suspect's house in November, including $100 worth of the narcotic pain reliever oxycodone.

The deputy, based in Brandon, was also accused of falsifying two incident reports and obtaining prescriptions for controlled drugs from two or more physicians within 30 days, a practice called "doctor shopping."

He has been suspended without pay while he faces charges of petty theft, two counts of official misconduct, tampering with physical evidence and five counts of obtaining drugs from physicians by withholding information. He was released from jail Thursday after he posted $8,000 bail.

For posing in pictures while in uniform, Bell was suspended for 20 days and barred from off-duty work for a year.

In September, he was cited for smoking a cigarette in the presence of a victim and other deputies. It was the second time last year that he had been seen smoking in a public place, which is against sheriff's policies. Superiors had also talked to him about smoking in his patrol car.

These infractions were among some of the things he needed to work on, according to his latest evaluation, which was mostly positive.

Justin George can be reached at 813 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.