Marco policeman put on administrative leave; prosecutors doubt him as witness
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A Marco Island police officer who is on the State Attorney's Office do-not-subpoena list has been taken off patrol and placed on administrative leave as the city reviews his employment status.
Despite the state office placing Officer Tige Thompson on the do-not-subpoena list several years ago, he had been allowed to remain on patrol for two lengthy stints, including during most of Police Chief Al Schettino's tenure.
It wasn't until recently, when Thompson was involved in a few high-profile arrests — including one incident where SWAT was called due to a man barricading himself in his home with a cache of weapons — that new City Manager David Harden became aware of Thompson's status.
After Harden announced that Thompson had been reassigned to code enforcement and the handling of noncriminal complaints in an email to the Marco Eagle on Monday, he elected to place Thompson on administrative leave.
"The issue is whether or not he meets the minimum requirements for service as a police officer," Harden said Wednesday afternoon.
The do-no-subpoena list, which is not technically an official document, refers to law enforcement personnel who are sometimes known as “Brady cops,” or officers who have a history of being dishonest when acting in an official capacity.
The origin of the moniker stems from the Supreme Court's 1963 decision in the case Brady v. Maryland, which established that prosecutors were required to disclose any exculpatory evidence, including evidence that would impeach a witness.
If a law enforcement officer is needed as a witness for the prosecution and appears on the list, it severely hampers the state attorney's office, not only from prosecuting but winning the case.
With his inclusion on the do-not-subpoena list, Thompson cannot fulfill the duties of a Marco Island police officer as outlined in the city's job description.
As with the majority of other government entities, the city of Marco Island advertises job opportunities and descriptions, including for police, on the Government Jobs website.
Testifying in court is listed as an essential function.
"Participates in investigating criminal law violations occurring within the City limits (i.e. obtaining evidences, compiling information regarding crimes, preparing cases for filing of charges, testifying in court, etc.)," the posting states.
How it got to this point
In the case of Thompson, his placement on do-not-subpoena list stems from an arrest involving DUI charges in which he was accused of making false and inconsistent testimony during a DMV hearing.
During the hearing, Thompson stated that he witnessed the accused driving the vehicle, but officers who were also present disputed his account.
The state attorney's office was forced to drop the case on Aug. 10, 2011. While concerns about Thompson's testimony were known then, he continued to remain on patrol.
It wasn't until November 2013 that the state attorney's office sent a letter to the Marco Island Police Department reiterating its concerns about Thompson's credibility and reiterating that it would not be calling him as a witness for the prosecution in criminal cases.
In response, then-Police Chief Don Hunter reassigned Thompson to investigations. However, Thompson returned to patrol after Hunter retired.
The state attorney's office issued another letter in 2015, this time addressed to Schettino, stating that its position had not changed.
"Chief Schettino removed him from investigations out of concern that every case he touched would be tainted," Harden wrote. "Chief Schettino placed Officer Thompson back in road patrol because, in his opinion, he did not have anywhere else to place him."
While the police department had originally launched an internal affairs investigation into Thompson, its investigation ran into trouble.
The department found that Thompson violated three police policies, including ones involving integrity, truthfulness and non-compliance with directives, but could not impose discipline due to the investigation running past the 180-day window established in the Officers' Bill of Rights.
Once the internal affairs investigation was closed, it was forwarded to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which opened its own perjury investigation.
FDLE has a list of offenses, which include perjury or false statements, that it investigates for the purpose of reviewing officers' credentialing. With these offenses and moral character violations, it has the power to issue a suspension or revocation of credentials for violating the standards of professional compliance.
Despite Thompson’s false statements, FDLE "no caused" the perjury case last year, citing insufficient grounds for the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission to pursue its own disciplinary action .
In comments entered in its automated training management system, the investigator assigned to the case noted that evidence containing comments of the 911 caller reporting the alleged DUI could not be located and there was no GPS data to ascertain Thompson’s exact position. Thompson was not interviewed as part of the internal affairs investigation.
“Due to the age of the case and evidentiary issues, staff recommends this case be caused, and legal concurs,” the comments stated.
Involved in hundreds of cases since 2011
Since the DUI case was dropped in 2011, Thompson has been involved in hundreds of criminal and traffic offenses.
These include 40 felony, 44 misdemeanor and 96 criminal traffic arrests, and 105 traffic tickets issued.
Under Schettino's watch when Thompson was returned to patrol, records from the Collier County Clerk of Courts show he has been involved in 12 felony, 30 misdemeanor and 67 criminal traffic cases, none of which has gone to trial.
With the exception of about one-third of cases avoiding prosecution due to a pretrial diversion or early intervention program, the remaining cases have primarily not been prosecuted due to insufficient evidence to prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt.
Traffic tickets tell a different story.
In Collier County, ticket recipients are given three options for resolving their offense: pay the ticket, opt a for basic driver improvement course or request a hearing.
Most people eschew requesting a hearing as a loss in court would result in substantially higher penalties. In the request for hearing letter ticket recipients sign, the court system warns of fines as high as $1,000 plus court costs.
With a hearing, the court issues a subpoena for the officer to testify. Out of 105 tickets Thompson has issued, only 12 people have requested a hearing. In nine out of the 12 cases, the ticket was dismissed immediately. In two out of the remaining three cases, the ticket recipient elected to plead no contest before the hearing while the other case remains pending.
The Clerk of Court has collected more than $14,000 in fines as a result of Thompson's tickets not being challenged.
In case you missed it: Man, 61, who barricaded himself in home also threatened officers