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Trooper Fired Over Ticket: Florida Officer Gave Lawmaker a Break

Tuesday, 02 Apr 2013 02:37 PM

By Alexandra Ward

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A Florida state trooper was fired recently for not issuing a speeding ticket to a politician who was clocked doing 87 in a 70-mph zone last year.

Trooper Charles Swindle, a six-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol, is appealing his March 15 firing. He claims he was "trying to be nice" by following the department's unwritten rule of not issuing tickets to lawmakers who have influence over the patrol's budget. The Highway Patrol has denied this claim.

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On Nov. 19, Swindle reportedly pulled over Rep. Charles McBurney, a Jacksonville Republican, after clocking him at 87 mph with a radar gun. McBurney, who had a special tag that identified him as a legislator, was traveling with his wife on Interstate 10 headed to Tallahassee, and insisted he had his cruise control set at 75.

Swindle spared McBurney the $250 speeding ticket, instead citing him for failure to provide proof of insurance, even though McBurney had his insurance card on him. The ticket was $10.

"I'm cutting you a break on this one," Swindle told the lawmaker, according to an internal report. Before doing so, the report said, Swindle checked with his superior, Sgt. Gary Dawson, who approved and said: "We ain't gettin' no pay raises anyways."

McBurney, however, did not appreciate the gesture. On Nov. 29, he sent a letter on his House letterhead to the Florida Highway Patrol's director.

"If those who enforce our laws fail to meet the highest ethical standards, there is erosion of that confidence," McBurney wrote. "I am concerned that as Trooper Swindle acted in such fashion to me, that he would do so to any law-abiding citizen of our state."

Swindle was fired last month for displaying poor judgment and circumventing the legal progress, according to his termination letter.

Dawson, the sergeant who approved Swindle's handling of McBurney, is on leave with plans to retire, according to the Miami Herald.

Swindle plans on appealing the decision, according to his lawyer Sidney Matthew, who claims recruits are taught at the academy not to "bite the hand that feeds you."

"The unspoken fear behind this policy is that legislators might retaliate against the FHP by withholding pay raises or pass unwanted legislation against the FHP if the troopers are not lenient while enforcing the law on legislators," Matthew wrote in the appeal.

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