Exclusive: Transferred for bad DUI arrests, Pinellas deputy fighting to get old job back

By Josh Rojas, Bay News 9
Last Updated: Monday, July 30, 2012

Pinellas County sheriff’s deputy John Hubbard is fighting to get his old job back after being transferred from patrol to bailiff last year.

That happened after an internal affairs investigation determined Hubbard’s DUI investigations "lacked important/sufficient information to prosecute the cases."

"Upon review of the COBAN videos relating to several of your DUI cases, you were found to be demeaning and abrasive towards citizens," Hubbard was told in a disciplinary memo. "… During meetings with Assistant State Attorneys, you made inappropriate and unprofessional comments."

Hubbard is appealing those findings and has a hearing scheduled for Aug. 9. He told Bay News 9 there are many reasons why he wants to get back to "keeping the streets safe."

“One, I’m very effective there, and two, I make a lot more money,” Hubbard said. “I had a take-home car, which was taken from me. I made 10 percent differential and I made a lot of overtime.”

According to an inter-office disciplinary memo, Hubbard was also suspended for 160 hours and had to undergo a fitness-for-duty evaluation.

Internal affairs officials investigated 38 arrests deputy Hubbard made between January 2010 and June 2011, all but one of which was for DUI. In 24 of those cases, the investigation found, the DUI charge was either dropped or reduced because either the suspect's blood-alcohol content was barely at or under the legal limit of .08 or the driver refused the tests after interacting with Hubbard.

But Hubbard, who is represented by Largo attorney John Trevena,  says he kept a list of all his DUI arrests during that same time period, and it shows he had plenty of convictions.

“Of these 225 arrests that I have made, over 92 percent were convicted of either DUI or reckless driving," he said. "And there’s a fine line, but they’re both traffic misdemeanors. So does that sound like a problem child?” 

According to the report, internal affairs began investigating Hubbard when the assistant state attorney in charge of misdemeanors at the time, Holly Grissinger, called Lt. Glenn Luben at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and notified him of a list of cases that were "either refusals or a low blow."

“My intent on this whole phone call was for deputy Hubbard to receive additional training, specifically with HGN (the horizontal gaze nystagmus eye test) and/or stop doing DUIs,” Grissinger said in a deposition. “His reports were getting shorter and shorter, and he was relying more and more on the in-car video for his actual report.”

Internal affairs report

Grissinger said prosecutors were not comfortable playing Hubbard’s videos for a jury because of Hubbard’s demeanor, according to the deposition.

"I felt that if those videos were broadcast, if the public saw those videos, that they would have a huge problem with his behavior and how he treated the people during a criminal investigation, whether they should have been arrested or not," she said.

Hubbard said that he was never told by any assistant state attorney there was a problem with his attitude on the videos.

“I never received any complaints from a single assistant state attorney,” he said. “I may not be your most 'officer friendly' that maybe you’re looking for ... but you know I treat people the same and I am very fair.”

Internal affairs investigators interviewed a couple more assistant state attorneys who complained about Hubbard.

According to the report, while assistant state attorney Dyana Sisti and Hubbard were watching a video together of a woman he arrested for DUI, the deputy said, “Yeah, yeah, shake your (expletive) honey,” as the woman stood in front of the cruiser.

When asked by investigators if he made that comment, Hubbard responded, “I may have, but I would like to add that she was the first one to make comments about … the defendant’s body and her appearance.”

According to the report, assistant state attorney Tony Carlow told investigators Hubbard told him he relies solely on the HGN test to determine sobriety in all his DUI investigations. "He does not care about the outcome of the field sobriety exercises," Carlow is quoted as saying.

Hubbard denies that’s exactly what he said.

"What I said is that HGN, to me, is the most important of the three exercises," he said.

Hubbard performed the eye test many times on video, which is a violation of sheriff's office policy. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said last month the policy is under review.

During the investigated period, the report found, Hubbard arrested six drivers for DUI whose blood-alcohol content was under .08 and urine tests results for drugs came back clean. On the videos, Hubbard can be seen telling three of those drivers he believes they’re impaired based on their eyes.

"Well, the HGN that I checked your eyes … you miserably failed that," Hubbard said to one of those drivers.

According to the report, DUI expert Capt. Teresa Dioquino and Carlow both said Hubbard was doing the HGN test wrong.

“Deputy Hubbard is moving his pen from side to side too quickly to do the test properly,” Carlow said.

“HGN is usually the first test you do," Dioquino said. "Because, in the original studies, it showed a 77 percent reliability in accuracy in regards to finding those people that are over a .10,”  Dioquino said.

Hubbard said he has asked for some formal DUI training but never received it. The former patrol deputy said he was doing the HGN test the way he was taught and it’s still accurate.

“I do feel like I do know what I’m doing,” Hubbard said. “I can check your eyes, a lot of people’s eyes, and I can tell … if it’s alcohol only and what their breath result will be.”

Dioquino, however, doesn't agree.

"The training deficiencies are quite evident," she said. "I would look at some of the interviewing techniques. ... Patience and perseverance and good interviewing skills helps facilitate a good investigation and arrest."

Hubbard said the six drivers that had  "low blows" and negative urine test results are his weakest cases, but he still believes the drivers were impaired.

“My responsibility is what were they at the time of the stop," he said. "Not four hours later or two hours later when they might take a breath test. My opinion is they were impaired or I wouldn’t have arrested them.”

This is the second time Hubbard has been demoted in his 24-year career with the sheriff's office. According to reports, Hubbard was demoted from sergeant to patrol deputy in 2009 after it was determined he created a hostile work environment.

Hubbard’s hearing on Aug. 9 will be held before a judge with the Division of Administrative Hearings.

The sheriff's office and State Attorney’s Office both said they can’t comment on Hubbard’s appeal because of the pending hearing.