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Officer cleared in shooting, punished for chase

TIA Detective Todd Finley improperly chased a car theft suspect and shot him when the suspect rammed his car, authorities said.


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 7, 2001

TIA Detective Todd Finley improperly chased a car theft suspect and shot him when the suspect rammed his car, authorities said.

TAMPA -- Todd Finley, a detective with Tampa International Airport Police, should not have chased a suspect in a stolen car the morning of April 25, an internal investigation has found.

After the chase, Finley shot five rounds at the suspect, 22-year-old Denario Devonne Jones, when Jones tried to ram Finley's car with the stolen car. One round hit Jones in the shoulder, wounding him slightly.

Both the State Attorney's Office and a review board convened by airport police found that Finley feared for his life when he shot at Jones, and the shooting was justified.

But the investigators said Finley violated the pursuit policy of airport police, which dictates that an officer may not chase a suspect unless he or she is suspected of a violent felony. Until Jones rammed Finley's car, he was not suspected of any violent act.

On Tuesday, a letter of reprimand was placed in Finley's personnel file, which is the minimum disciplinary action.

Finley, 35, has worked for TIA police for four years and has never been in trouble before, something that officials took into account when deciding his punishment, said Louis Miller, the executive director of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.

"It all happened very quickly," Miller said. "But that's no excuse for violating the policy."

If Finley had worked for the Tampa Police Department, he wouldn't be in trouble at all. TPD officers follow a much looser pursuit policy, which allows them to pursue any kind of criminal suspect. That policy has been criticized for endangering public safety after high-profile accidents in which suspects and innocent bystanders have been killed in accidents. But officials at TPD believe the policy helps deter auto thefts.

The morning of April 25, Finley was investigating the theft of an Isuzu Trooper from National Car Rental the day before. Paperwork from the car was found dumped on the street in a West Tampa neighborhood, so Finley drove there to investigate. There, he saw the stolen Trooper and followed.

The pursuit did not reach high speeds but did involve Jones and Finley driving the wrong way on Armenia Avenue, a one-way street. It ended after Jones pulled into a driveway and Finley blocked him from behind, police said. Jones was caught by Tampa police officers after a foot chase. He is still being held in Hillsborough County jail, charged with grand theft auto, aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer and obstructing an officer.

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