Clermont police officer had ‘pattern’ of unlawful stops, prosecutors say

The State Attorney’s Office dismissed 10 cases after a Clermont police officer was arrested Wednesday on charges that he falsified arrest reports, a prosecutor said Thursday.

“A false statement in an official proceeding … they go directly to the integrity of the criminal justice system,” said Walter Forgie, supervising assistant state attorney in Lake County.

Officer Cecil Clifford Garrett, 48, showed a “pattern” of pulling drivers over without cause after an investigation showed he didn’t run their tags before stopping them, Forgie said, adding that Garrett “lied” in arrest reports about when he ran the tags.

“The result of that is he may not have had a lawful reason to conduct the stops,” he said.

Garrett, a 12-year department veteran, turned himself in Wednesday after a warrant was issued for his arrest on five counts of perjury by false written declaration.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement launched a criminal investigation of Garrett in March after Clermont police Chief Chuck Broadway notified them about numerous complaints received from citizens dating back to June 2016.

In arrest reports, Garrett would write that he had confirmed a drivers license as suspended after he ran the person’s tag, prompting him to conduct a traffic stop. But computer logs show that he sometimes ran a license query after the stop was conducted, according to the state’s investigation.

“A law-enforcement officer has to have a lawful basis to initiate a stop,” Forgie said.

Garrett was fired from the Clermont Police Department in 2011 after an internal investigation accused him of falsely arresting a teenager on a drug charge. After an arbitrator determined the department did not conduct a fair investigation, the department re-hired him in April 2013.

Seven months later, Garrett wrote that he pulled over a “black GMC pickup” about 3 a.m. after a query showed that the man at the wheel had a suspended drivers license.

Police data logs, however, show that he didn’t run the tag until two minutes after pulling the driver over. In another arrest, he didn’t run the tag until an hour and 25 minutes later.

The two cases are part of 42 arrests since 2011 where Garrett wrote that he had prior knowledge of a driver having a suspended license, according to the state’s investigation.

Of those, 10 cases were dismissed because prosecutors believe he misrepresented information, Forgie said.

“We’re in the process of notifying any and all defense lawyers that have cases pending,” he said.

Forgie said there was no pattern of racial profiling and those arrested were “a variety of ethnicities.”

State officials will be reviewing all of Garrett’s cases dating back to his hiring in 2005.

Broadway said Garrett was a “very proactive officer” who “made a lot of arrests” and mostly worked patrol.

“It in no way is a reflection of the fine men and women of the Clermont Police Department,” he said.

The chief said the department received letters in June 2016 from two people incarcerated in the Lake County Jail and two more this year from others who said Garrett was untruthful in his reports.

He said he contacted FDLE about multiple discrepancies and asked for an independent review.

Garrett told prosecutors in an interview March 10 that he conducted several stops because he knew the driver didn’t have a license because of prior incidents.

“I have stopped folks before that I knew were suspended, like say a week before that,” he told prosecutors.

Clermont police Officer Patrick McBride told prosecutors that when he was assigned to ride with Garrett he was told to “Just be careful, watch your back … He is known for stretching things out a little bit.”

Garrett was placed on unpaid administrative leave in March pending the outcome of the charges, Broadway said.

Perjury is a third-degree felony and is punishable by up to five years in prison.

jruiter@orlandosentinel.com or 352-742-5927.

Clermont police officer arrested on perjury charges »