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Brunvand Seeks Federal Civil Rights Investigation of Pinellas County Sheriff's Office

As reported in the Tampa Bay Times, five Tampa Bay area defense lawyers, including Bjorn Brunvand of this office, are seeking a federal civil rights investigation of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office over allegations that narcotics detectives have trespassed and lied to gather evidence against drug suspects.

The lawyers represent clients arrested by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office for growing marijuana inside their homes. After questions were raised recently regarding the truthfulness of some of the Sheriff's former detectives, prosecutors dropped charges in a number of drug cases.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced last week that four former detectives had been placed on leave over "issues of veracity", pending a full internal affairs investigation.

Despite the sheriff's actions, the local defense attorneys told the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, they "have lost confidence in the PCSO's ability to conduct a full and fair investigation ... and call upon the Department of Justice to do so." In addition to Bjorn Bruvand, local lawyers Douglas de Vlaming, Newt Hudson, Jerry Theophilopoulos and John Trevena signed the letter. Also signing was private investigator Michael Peasley, who is a former narcotics detective for the sheriff.

The group asked the USDOJ to investigate allegations of erasure of digital recording images seized from a marijuana grower's house, which potentially showed detectives illegally trespassing on a suspect's propert prior to his arrest; whether officers physically abused a suspect during an arrest; whether a narcotics investigation involving the daughter of an internal affairs supervisor was covered up; and whether detectives stole any money.

The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office has now dropped charges in eight cases involving certain narcotics detectives and declined to pursue charges against three other suspects.

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