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Call for federal investigation of narcotics unit

Clearwater, Florida -- The U.S. Justice Department is being asked to step in and investigate the Pinellas Sheriff's Office. Several defense attorneys say the Sheriff's Office Narcotics Unit is routinely violating the civil rights of people it is investigating.

Even Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri admits, "There have been serious allegations, and we're investigating them."

The allegations started coming to light as a result of a video of Spanish Television network, Telemundo. The tape was recorded by Pinellas narcotics deputies over a surveillance tape recorded at the home of a man arrested for growing marijuana.

The attorneys filing the complaint say if the tape wasn't recorded over, it would have shown detectives illegally hopping a wall to investigate a marijuana grow house without a warrant. However, the evidence was destroyed with the new recording.

Defense attorney, John Trevena says it is outrageous. "The bottom line is you cannot frame the guilty. You may think you can frame the guilty, because they are guilty, but that's not the way our system works."

The complaint also points to deputies wearing a Progress Energy hat and uniform to surreptitiously investigate another man they thought was growing marijuana, but he was not.

In addition to the allegation of the destruction of evidence and the charge deputies were trespassing without a warrant, the letter to the justice department asks for an investigation into allegations of:

  • A cover up of narcotics trafficking by Sgt. Thomas Klein's Daughter after Klein became aware of it
  • deputies physically abusing a man at a restaurant
  • theft of public funds by sheriff employees
  • perjury by detectives when they were being question about potential illegal activities

Trevena says, "We're asking the Department of Justice to conduct a thorough investigation. We believe there has to be an independent outside agency that examines this."

While Gualtieri has pointed out in the past he wasn't the sheriff when these allegations of the illegal activities took place, he also says he took actions to make corrections in the narcotics unit long before these incidents became public.

"I was the chief deputy at the time, and I saw some things that needed to be changed out there, and I was taking action to change it, and I did change it."

Gualtieri says he was acting before any of the allegations became public and maintains the issue is coming to light, because he is involved in a bitter political race with former Sheriff Everett Rice.

"In my view, the reason they write this letter, it is going to end up on the front page of some campaign flyer in Everett Rice's campaign."

However, those who filed the complaint say violating civil rights is not a campaign issue, but a constitutional one.


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