Trooper In Ticket Scandal Heads Back To Work

By: Matt Galka, Mike Vasilinda, Julie Montanaro, Matt Horn Email
By: Matt Galka, Mike Vasilinda, Julie Montanaro, Matt Horn Email
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UPDATE by Matt Horn
September 19, 2013

Tallahassee, FL - Six months ago – this traffic stop and an unwritten rule caused Florida Highway Patrol trooper Charles Swindle to lose his job.

Swindle was fired for giving a state lawmaker a ten dollar ticket instead of a 250 dollar speeding ticket. The lawmaker complained. Swindle was fired. The trooper fought back…and an appeals panel said the firing was too harsh. He’s going back on the road. His attorney says even though his client is going back to work – the fight continues.

”If he does any little minuet thing wrong they can fire him as a second offense,” said Sid Matthew, Trooper Swindle’s attorney.

Trooper Swindle will return to work at Troop H in Tallahassee on Friday. F-H-P wouldn’t go on camera about the case, but released a statement.

In part, it says: “…The Department reiterates its commitment to holding our employees accountable when their actions violate the public trust, that we, as law enforcement officers, have been given.” With one strike against Swindle – a minor infraction may make it easier for him to be fired again.

”If we have to appeal to the District Court of Appeal to get his record cleared and named cleared we’re going to do that,” said Matthew.

But in the meantime, he says he is ready to be back on the roads.

”I’m happy to be going back to work. I’m ready to get back out there and do my job,” said Trooper Swindle.

The case will likely be tied up in an appeals court for up to a year also undecided is whether he’ll get back lost overtime pay amounting to 25 thousand dollars.


Associated Press Release

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- A fired Florida Highway Patrol trooper who got in trouble over giving breaks to state legislators is heading back to work.

The Florida Highway Patrol is reinstating Trooper Charles Swindle to his job this Friday.

Swindle was fired because he wrote $10 citations for no proof of insurance to two legislators and another driver instead of ticketing them for speeding.

Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, complained about the citation.

Swindle argued that he was carrying out a long-standing but unwritten policy of giving breaks on speeding tickets to legislators.

A state employee panel ruled in August that Swindle deserved to get suspended instead of getting fired. Swindle's agency decided to reinstate him instead of contesting the ruling.

Swindle is fighting to get back pay and prove he should not be suspended.


By Julie Montanaro
August 2, 2013

A trooper fired for cutting a lawmaker a break on a speeding ticket will get his job back.

Charles Swindle was fired in March after state representative Charles McBurney complained about the way he handled a traffic stop on I-10.

Instead of writing the lawmaker a 251 dollar ticket for speeding, Swindle wrote him a 10 dollar ticket for failure to show proof of insurance. McBurney complained, saying he did have his insurance card that day.

Now the state's Public Employee Relations Commission has ruled Trooper Swindle should be reinstated, but it agreed he should be disciplined and suspended for three weeks without pay instead.

The final order from PERC was issued today.

Swindle's attorney Sid Matthew says he will appeal PERC's decision to try to have the disciplinary action thrown out too.

"This decision does not clear his name which we have to do.
And basically the decision makes a mockery of justice because it says he is guilty of following an unwritten rule of the agency with the approval of his supervisor," Matthew said.

A spokeswoman for the Florida Highway Patrol says the agency is still reviewing PERC's decision and won't comment on it until next week.

The document is attached to this story.

Representative Charles McBurney issued a statement Friday saying:

“In the matter of Trooper Swindle, the Hearing Officer made his recommendation and PERC has issued its order. I believe the recommendation and order are correct. I never sought nor recommended any disciplinary action – I merely shared my concern over the conduct of a trooper who had issued a ticket for something I did not do. The Hearing Officer and PERC found that, in fact, this was the case. I believe the decision made in this case is correct, I am pleased to learn that Trooper Swindle will be returning to active duty and I wish him well.”


UPDATED by Julie Montanaro
June 11, 2013

A Florida Highway Patrol Spokeswoman says the agency will continue to push for the dismissal of Trooper Charles Swindle.

Tuesday morning, Captain Nancy Rasmussen released this statement:

"Monday the Department received the Recommended Order from the hearing officer in the PERC hearing regarding former Trooper Swindle. The hearing officer stated that the Department proved by a “preponderance of evidence” that Swindle violated policies including the “policy that prohibits troopers from making false accusations of traffic offenses.” However, the hearing officer disagreed with the level of discipline imposed by Department. The Department continues to believe in our recommended actions, therefore, we will be filling exceptions to the Commission within fifteen days."

PERC General Counsel Stephen Meck says FHP has 15 days to submit a response and the three-member commission will then have 90 days to issue a formal order in the case.


UPDATED
By Julie Montanaro
June 10, 2013

A Florida trooper fired in the wake of ticketing a lawmaker could be getting his job back.

A hearing officer issued a proposed order today that recommends the trooper be reinstated at the Florida Highway Patrol.

The dashboard video camera was rolling when Trooper Charles Swindle gave Jacksonville Representative Charles McBurney a ticket back in November.

He cut McBurney a break and wrote him a 10 dollar ticket for failure to show proof of insurance instead of a 251 dollar ticket for speeding.

McBurney complained. Swindle was fired for falsifying the charge.

Now a hearing officer says Swindle should get his job back.

"I'm cautiously optimistic, but I mean, I'm not celebrating right now. This is not over yet and I expect FHP to keep fighting it," Swindle said by phone from Gainesville Monday.

"This is very important that he be reinstated so that he retains his law enforcement credentials," Swindle's attorney Sid Matthew said. "It was very vigorously contested. I'm sure the agency is going to appeal this as far as the law allows them."

A hearing officer with the Public Employees Relations Commission - or PERC - issued a recommended order Monday.

He said Swindle should get his job back and face a two week suspension instead.

The hearing officer said Swindle "was in a no-win situation" and said his actions "were heavily influenced by the Agency's unwritten policy toward traffic stops involving lawmakers" and pointed out troopers "were taught and were told by supervisors that they should be lenient toward legislators."

"What's happened is there's been a confirmation of something that everyone else has already known," Matthew said. "The question at hand is whether this representative from Jacksonville had ruined it for the other legislators and whether troopers will, from now on, exercise their discretion in favor of throwing the book at them for everything that they can."

The Florida Highway Patrol has not yet responded to our request for a comment on today's recommendation. It previously denied that it had any unwritten policies regarding lawmakers.

FHP has 15 days to respond to the hearing officer's recommendation.


UPDATED
By: Julie Montanaro
June 10, 2013, 10:45 a.m.

A hearing officer with the Public Employee Relations Commission has recommended fired Florida trooper Charles Swindle get his job back.

An order released today, hearing officer Gregg Riley Morton
recommends that Swindle's discipline be reduced to a 120 hour suspension without pay.

He wrote, "I believe Trooper Swindle was in a no-win situation having pulled over two legislator for speeding. In attempting to make a quick decision to resolve the situation, he made a mistake in his method of showing leniency in accordance with the Agency's unwritten policy of professional courtesy toward legislators."

Morton wrote, "More importantly, Swindle's particular actions in this case were heavily influenced by the Agency's unwritten policy toward traffic stops involving legislators. As noted in my factual findings, Swindle and other troopers were taught and were told by supervisors that they should be lenient toward legislators."

We are trying to reach Swindle, his lawyer and the Florida Highway Patrol for comment.


UPDATED
By: Mike Vasilinda
May 29, 2013

A State Trooper who was fired for giving a state lawmaker a break is fighting for his job today. Trooper Charles Swindle was dismissed after writing a ten dollar ticket instead of a two hundred and fifty dollar ticket. The trooper today testified giving lawmakers a break is common practice.

A routine traffic stop on I-10 cost Trooper Charles Swindle his job. Behind the wheel, Jacksonville lawmaker Charles McBurney.

Once the Trooper determined McBurney was a legislator, he decided to cut him a break. The dashboard cam even records the trooper clearing the deal with his Sergeant.

Voice of Charles Swindle: “I’ll write him a warning to be nice”

Voice of a Sergeant: “Alright”

Voice of Charles Swindle: “I’m going to charge him because I didn’t see his insurance card. I’ll give him that ticket.”

Legislator McBurney accepted the tickets on the side of the road then complained to the top trooper. “I simply wrote the letter to let the Florida Highway Patrol know that I felt that was inappropriate.”, says Rep. McBurney, R-Jacksonville.

Wednesday, the six year FHP veteran was on the witness stand fighting for his job back. Under oath he testified there was an unwritten rule to give lawmakers breaks.

When Swindle was asked what the policy was, he responded “we’re always told to be lenient on legislators.”

His attorney produced a long list of legislators who speed was reduced or who were cited for not having insurance.

The trooper isn’t being fired for letting a lawmaker go; he’s being fired for falsifying the charge.

Reporter: “You couldn’t let him go for speeding that’s his discretion.”

Sandra Coulter, FHP Attorney: “But he issued citations for traffic offenses that drivers did not commit.”

And we asked Swindle what he was fighting so hard to get his job back, he answered to “to clear my name.”

Reporter: “You feel you haven’t done anything wrong.”

Charles Swindle: “No, Sir.”


By Matt Galka
March 27, 2013

Tallahassee, FL - Former Florida State Trooper Charles Swindle and his lawyer Sidney Matthew say Swindle was wrongfully dismissed after giving a state legislator a $10 "failure to display proof of insurance" violation. Representative Charles McBurney says he had it the whole time.

"Right behind my Driver's license was my proof of insurance," said McBurney.

Swindle pulled over the state rep for speeding on I-10 in Madison County. Instead of giving him a $250 ticket, Swindle says he gave him a warning and was cutting McBurney a break with the insurance citation because that was an FHP unwritten rule.

"I was told in the academy, back in 2006, that we could write tickets to whoever we wanted to, but it would not behoove us to write legislators," said Swindle.

Rep. McBurney filed a complaint about the citation in November to FHP, then paid the $10 fine in December. Swindle lost his job in February.

He says he radioed his Sergeant to get the OK before he gave McBurney the citation.

"There always has been a policy in place, an unwritten policy, if you stop a legislator and you give him a ticket, you're probably going to be biting the hand that feeds you," said Sgt. Gary Dawson.

Officially FHP says its policy is to not give lawmakers special treatment. Swindle and his attorney have documents they claim show lawmakers getting the same citations Swindle wrote, but he is the only one to have been let go.

Swindle and his lawyer have filed an appeal to get Swindle's job back.


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