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Police sued over request for records

By Times staff writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 25, 2001

TAMPA -- Hillsborough County Public Defender Julianne Holt is suing the Tampa Police Department, alleging it refuses to release records about a police officer.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, says Holt's office requested Internal Affairs files on Officer Steve Hinson on Dec. 6. The Public Defender's Office also requested complaints against the officer and the department's standard operating procedures. Holt received none of the information, the lawsuit says.

Kirby Rainsberger, attorney for the Police Department, wrote to Holt that she needed to request the documents through pretrial discovery laws rather than under public records laws, according to the suit.

"Accordingly, we do not deny your request for the specific documents, we merely ask that you comply with the letter and spirit of (the law) and obtain the records through discovery," Rainsberger wrote to Holt this month.

During a routine traffic stop two years ago involving a suspected drug dealer, Hinson's legs were crushed by the back wheels of the car as it fled. He drew his 9mm handgun and fired at least a half-dozen shots at the car before it sped away. The incident prompted an Internal Affairs probe.

Rainsberger said Monday that Holt's office for years has obtained information from the Police Department through public records requests, but that it puts prosecutors, who may not learn of her request nor of the case to which it pertains, at a disadvantage.

"Frankly, it's been going on for a long time that Internal Affairs has, in the past, handed all this stuff over," Rainsberger said. "But now it's come to the point where it's just a standard Public Defender's Office technique."

The lawsuit was filed by Barnett, Bolt, Kirkwood & Long on behalf of Holt. Neither the firm nor Holt could be reached for comment Monday.

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