When’s the last time you complained about not getting a speeding ticket? Well, one Florida legislator complained enough to get an officer fired for giving him special treatment.
The Miami Herald reports Rep. Charles McBurney (R-Jacksonville) was driving 87 in a 70 mph zone — a speeding ticket that would have cost $250 — when Trooper Charles Swindle, a six-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), pulled him over.
After noticing Rep. McBurney’s car had a special license plate that identified him as a legislator, Trooper Swindle dispatched his supervisor, Sgt. Gary Dawson, before letting the state lawmaker go with a $110 fine for lacking proof of insurance — which would be reduced to only $10 if Rep. McBurney brought proof of insurance to the county courthouse where the ticket was issued.
Rep. McBurney insists that he wasn’t speeding because his cruise control was set at 75 mph. He claims the trooper hadn’t asked for his insurance, which Rep. McBurney had in his wallet at the time.
In a complaint letter to the head of the FHP, Rep. McBurney–who sits on two Appropriation Committees and on the Legislative Budget Commission–wrote: “I am concerned that as Trooper Swindle acted in such a fashion to me that he would do so to any law-abiding citizen of our state.” According to Swindle’s termination letter obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, Swindle was formally dismissed for “conduct unbecoming a public employee,” and a violation of “law and agency rules.” Seeing it justified, McBurney tells local station 106.5 FM, “I just believe it’s every citizen’s responsibility to keep employees of our government and agencies honest.”
The former trooper says he was just “trying to be nice” and has filed an appeal, claiming that he was following an understood practice of granting leeway to those who essentially dictate their budget. “Basically, an unwritten rule is, if you stop a member of the Legislature, they [FHP] prefer us to give them breaks. It is kind of a double standard,” the trooper’s supervisor, Sgt. Dawson tells Jacksonville.com.
Coincidentally, on the same day Trooper Swindle stopped Rep. McBurney, he also pulled over Rep. Mike Clelland (D-Lake Mary), who he clocked going 87 in a 70 mph zone as well. Rep. Clelland was let off with two citations for no proof of insurance and no car registration, rather than a costlier speeding ticket.
A spokesman for FHP denies “any written or unwritten policy that requires [troopers] to treat members of the Legislature any differently than the regular public.”
But this sort of leniency isn’t hard to believe: in New York City, the Police Union issues Courtesy Cards that officers and their family members can flash when they get into minor binds, like traffic or parking violations.