Former Florida Highway Patrol trooper Charles Swindle, who was fired in March over his handling of traffic stops involving two state legislators, officially won reinstatement to his job Friday. He's entitled to back pay, too, with interest, as a state board concluded that Swindle was following a tradition of cutting breaks for politicians who exceed the speed limit.
The Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) issued a final order upholding a hearing officer's conclusion that Swindle's firing was too harsh a penalty for his actions. Instead, Swindle got a three-week suspension and he can petition the FHP for back pay, which so far totals more than $12,000 before taxes.
"The agency is ordered to reinstate to his former position or a position having the same degree of responsibility as his former position," PERC's order said.
Swindle was fired over his conduct on I-10 in Madison one day last November, when, in rapid succession, he pulled over two House members who he said were speeding. But Reps. Mike Clelland, D-Lake Mary, and Charles McBurney, got away with slaps on the wrist in the form of no proof of insurance and no proof of registration. The problem was, both lawmakers had the proof -- Swindle never requested to see it. McBurney wrote a letter to FHP Col. David Brierton complaining about Swindle's conduct, which launched an investigation that led to his dismissal.
"We recognize, as did the hearing officer, that the agency's longstanding unwritten policy of leniency toward legislators contributed to Swindle's actions showing leniency to McBurney and Clelland," PERC concluded. One of the three PERC commissioners who sided with Swindle, Mike Hogan of Jacksonville, is himself a former legislator.
The patrol now must re-hire a trooper it does not want, but the result is not a total disaster for the state: PERC denied Swindle's request that the state be forced to pay his attorney's fees.
-- Steve Bousquet