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Officials reject firing of officer

City labor officials recommend the return to work with full back pay of David Sugar, fired by police Chief Goliath Davis III for lying.

By MIKE BRASSFIELD

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 9, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- David Sugar was well-liked by many of his fellow police officers. They were surprised when he got fired last month.

Police Chief Goliath Davis III and other supervisors decided Sugar, 43, had been lying to the Police Department about whether another officer had used excessive force during an arrest.

But city labor officials said Tuesday that they disagreed with Davis. They saw no evidence that Sugar had lied. In a rare move, a city hearing officer recommended that Sugar get his job back.

"I feel like I'll be able to sleep now for a change," Sugar said after hearing the news. "I've been out of work for a month. I've been nervous the whole 19 months this has been going on."

He's not back on the job just yet.

Davis said he would discuss the city officials' findings with Sugar's supervisors before deciding whether to reinstate Sugar. If he ignores the hearing officer's recommendation, Sugar's case would go to the next step -- a labor arbitrator.

The police chief's critics suggest that Sugar's firing was part of a personal vendetta by the chief. But Davis says the entire chain of command above Sugar -- a sergeant, lieutenant, major, assistant chief and Davis -- decided Sugar was lying.

"That's the process. I have to apply the process the same for everyone. I can't apply the process based on popularity," Davis said. "Nobody ever doubts the chain of command if there's an officer they're not particularly enamored with."

Sugar was a 10-year police veteran with an unblemished record who trained rookie patrol officers.

He was fired July 5 over allegations that he lied during an investigation into whether Officer Ron Adams used unnecessary force during an arrest on Jan. 21, 1999.

A juvenile in a stolen car had rammed Adams' police car during a drug investigation. The youth was chased to 7701/2 19th Ave. S, where Adams pulled the juvenile down a staircase.

Sugar was there. A third officer, Leric Boyd, reported seeing Adams punch the youth four or five times, but Sugar said he didn't see that. The youth told investigators that no one had hit him.

The investigation was delayed while Adams was on medical leave. Internal affairs investigators say Sugar changed his story somewhat when he re-enacted the scene for them more than a year later.

In his earlier statements, Sugar said he hadn't taken an active role in the arrest. But at the re-enactment, Sugar said he had helped arrest the youth.

Sugar says his memory became clearer during the re-enactment.

Adams, an outspoken critic of the chief, has since retired from the police force. He says it was Boyd, not Sugar, who lied in an attempt to make Adams look bad. Adams wants an independent agency to review the entire case.

"Boyd is a friend of the chief's, and I'm one of the chief's critics. It's all politics," Adams said. "Thank God the kid told the truth. The kid was my best witness."

Police supervisors have said they didn't think Boyd was lying.

Sugar's union, the Police Benevolent Association, filed a grievance over Sugar's firing.

City hearing officer Rose McCormick reviewed the case. She noted differences between Sugar's earlier testimony and what he said in his re-enactment. But she also found discrepancies in several other officers' testimony.

"It is my belief the scene was, for a brief period of time, a chaotic one in which many officers were present and many distractions . . . were occurring," McCormick wrote.

She recommended that Sugar be reinstated with full back pay.

Julie Upman, the city's labor relations manager, concurred that there was no proof Sugar had lied about what he saw.

PBA executive director Bill LauBach said this was the first time in his six-year tenure that city labor officials had disagreed with the Police Department's disciplining of an officer.

Just after Sugar was fired last month, Officer Dan Feeley got into a confrontation with Davis as the chief explained the firing to officers in the police station's roll-call room.

Feeley was suspended for two days, but witnesses disagree on who the aggressor was -- Feeley or Davis. The PBA has filed a grievance in Feeley's case as well.

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