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Third Plant City officer is charged in wrongdoing

By GRAHAM BRINK, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times,
published December 13, 2001

TAMPA -- A third police officer has been charged in an ongoing federal investigation of wrongdoing at the Plant City Police Department.

Armand C. Cotnoir turned himself in Wednesday after authorities advised him he was facing a charge of conspiracy to deprive people of their constitutional rights. If convicted, Cotnoir, 27, faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Prosecutor Jeffrey Del Fuoco hinted during a court hearing Wednesday that Cotnoir could face additional charges.

Cotnoir participated in several illegal searches, including a sting operation set up last year by undercover agents at the Days Inn in Plant City, documents say. Cotnoir and other officers used false warrants and stole property during the searches, the court documents say.

Cotnoir, who is suspended from duty, cooperated with investigators but was not fully honest when he said one of the searches was consensual, documents show. After that, investigators dropped him as a cooperating witness, and the charges followed.

On Tuesday, another Plant City officer, Robert David Dixon, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge. Dixon's plea agreement outlines ongoing abuses by a handful of unnamed police officers and a public official. The allegations include threatening suspects, making dozens of illegal searches, faking affidavits, lying to judges and trampling on civil rights. The activities "jeopardized the viability of dozens of criminal cases," according to court documents.

According to Dixon's plea agreement, officers often failed to inventory seized property, including pornographic tapes. Instead, they kept the items, often laughing and joking about efforts to add the "booty" to their collection of stolen property.

Most of the officers worked in the Special Investigations Unit and most of the thefts occurred during the execution of search warrants in drug cases.

The officers also conspired to lie to state judges when obtaining search warrants. They also lied on police reports and during sworn testimony to help convict defendants, the documents stated.

If the officers wanted to search a car but the driver refused, they would often say they smelled marijuana smoke, grounds to search without a warrant. They were "hiding behind their badges," the court documents said.

- Contact Graham Brink at 226-3365 or brink@sptimes.com.

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