TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- A fired state trooper, as well as some current and former troopers, testified Wednesday that the Florida Highway Patrol had an informal policy of giving breaks to legislators caught speeding.
The highway patrol maintains no such policy exists - and that trooper Charles Swindle was fired because he wrote up false $10 citations for no proof of insurance to two legislators and another driver.
Swindle, who is seeking his job and back pay, squared off against his former employer during an all-day personnel hearing.
Swindle could be heard on a November 2012 patrol stop video telling Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, that he was giving him a break after pulling him over for driving 87 miles per hour on Interstate 10 in north Florida. Swindle later that same day pulled over Rep. Mike Clelland, D-Lake Mary.
Patrol Sgt. William Griesbaum, who said he had been with the highway patrol for 27 years, testified that it had been stressed to troopers to go easy on state lawmakers because they set the budget for the highway patrol.
"All through my career I was told it would be in your best interest not to write them," Griesbaum said. "They hold your purse strings."
Attorneys for the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles did not dispute that troopers have discretion once they pull someone over.
But they got Griesbaum and other troopers to acknowledge that no one ever told them to write up false citations.
"This has to do with falsification, not discretion," said Sandra Coulter, assistant general counsel for the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
Swindle's conduct came to light because McBurney wrote a letter to the Florida Highway Patrol complaining after Swindle wrote him the ticket for no insurance. McBurney also maintained that he has set his cruise control at 75 miles per hour and was not driving 87 miles per hour.
On the video McBurney can be heard telling Swindle that he has his insurance card, but Swindle replies that he already wrote up the citation. Swindle then asks him if he would rather get a $250 speeding ticket.
That same video includes audio of Swindle talking to one of his superiors about writing the citation to McBurney. Sgt. Gary Dawson can be heard telling him to "stroke" or write the ticket because troopers aren't getting a pay raise anyway.
Dawson, who recently retired, also testified during the hearing held by the Public Employees Relations Commission that it "absolutely" was an unwritten policy to give breaks to legislators.
But even Dawson conceded it would have been an error to write a ticket for no insurance if the motorist had proof.
Other troopers who testified did not share the same point of view as either Dawson or Griesbaum. They also said they routinely asked for proof of insurance along with a driver's license and registration.
It may be weeks before Swindle learns if he gets his job back. The hearing officer has to issue a decision that will then be reviewed and voted on by the commission, which is appointed by the governor. The case could also be appealed to an appeals court.
Swindle testified that he is pursuing the case to "clear my name." He said he has applied with several sheriff's departments in north Florida and the Panhandle and has been unable to get a job.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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