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Illegal stop puts drug charges in doubt
A judge throws out evidence a detective found in two arrests.
By COLLEEN JENKINS, Times Staff Writer
Published January 16, 2008
TAMPA - In May, a Hillsborough sheriff's detective found seven freezer bags of marijuana, several bags of cocaine, drug paraphernalia and $7,000 in the bed of Anthony P. Tumminia's truck.
Prosecutors won't be able to use any of the evidence at trial.
Circuit Judge Debra Behnke has thrown it all out, saying Detective Jason Himmel made an illegal stop.
"The official misconduct in this case was extreme," she said.
Without the evidence, attorneys for Tumminia and his passenger, Kristopher A. Brown, expect the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office will have little choice but to drop the charges against two men with multiple prior arrests on their records.
"The state cannot move forward without the drug evidence," said Tumminia's attorney, John Trevena.
That decision won't be made until prosecutors receive a copy of Behnke's Thursday order, Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi said.
Himmel, an auto theft detective, had just finished his shift May 30 when he spotted Tumminia's truck hauling three motorbikes on a trailer on Falkenburg Road. The detective wondered if they were stolen.
When the truck entered a gated storage facility using an entry code, Himmel followed.
Inside, Himmel blocked in the truck. The detective asked for permission to inspect the motorbikes' ID numbers. Tumminia, 22, agreed. Then Himmel thought he smelled marijuana. He searched Tumminia and Brown, 21, found nothing and called for backup.
After other deputies arrived, Himmel spotted the drugs and money in the truck.
Behnke determined that Tumminia and Brown did not feel free to leave the storage facility, nor did they voluntarily consent to a search of the truck and trailer.
The detective, she said, did not have permission to enter the storage facility, which was private property, and had no reason to believe the bikes were stolen.
Because an "illegal search" followed, the judge said, the evidence must be suppressed. Prosecutors could appeal the ruling.