Last May, Sarasota County, Florida Dep. Dominic Fornal claimed he could smell marijuana coming from the inside of a car he was following at 35 miles per hour. That's why he stopped the car, then performed a thorough search. Four searches, in fact. He even ripped the upholstery out of the car.
Despite Dep. Fornal's exaggerated confidence in his own olfactory senses, he didn't find any marijuana in the car. Well, at least not after those first several searches. After about 90 minutes, Fornal turned off the microphone on his uniform. Another deputy then miraculously found a burnt marijuana cigarette. Fornal then arrested the driver on DUI charges, even though the driver's BAC was half the legal limit.
A state attorney later dismissed the charges, but Fornal's supervisor told a local paper that the deputy "operated entirely within department policy." No discipline. The only change the department made was to remove Dep. Fornal's dash camera. Which of course would make him even less accountable.
Ten months later, Fornal is back in the news.
At the accident scene that cost him his job, former Deputy Dominic Fornal allegedly poured a bottle of liquor into a woman's purse and then dumped the remainder of the bottle onto the floorboards of her van.
Minutes later, Fornal allegedly described one of his coworkers, Deputy James Kathman, as a "dumb ass" to a state trooper.
Confronted with these and other allegations contained in an internal affairs investigation, Fornal opted to resign Wednesday from the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office rather than answer to the charges.
"I hereby resign effective immediately for personal reasons," he wrote in his one-sentence resignation letter to Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight.
The internal affairs report, only partially completed since Fornal was never interviewed about some of the allegations, is now being scrutinized by defense attorneys who are scrambling to use it to discredit Fornal if the State Attorney's Office calls him as a civilian witness.
So ten months after the initial magical pot-sniffing incident, internal affairs hadn't yet even bothered to interview Fornal about it. Nor had they interviewed him about the string of incidents since. It's certainly a positive thing that the mere prospect of an investigation persuaded the Fornal to resign, but if I were forced to hazard a guess, I'd guess the decision to investigate him was instigated more by his comments about his colleagues than about his policing methods. The decision to let Fornal resign also means that he'll probably be able to find another job with another Florida law enforcement agency. (As seems to frequently happen with bad cops in Florida.)
Why would I be so cynical? Well as it turns out, there are still dozens of open cases for which Fornal is the state's main witness. You'd think a prosecutor interested in justice would just drop any case that turns on the word of a cop who even fellow cops have deemed to be a liar.
And you'd be wrong.
Prosecutors are showing no signs of offering any deals in cases involving Fornal.
They sent out at least one Motion in Limine Friday -- a legal maneuver that asks the court to bar defense attorneys from raising Fornal's past stops or from introducing newspaper accounts of his activities. While the motions for Fornal have been somewhat formulaic, the new version seeks to bar attorneys from mentioning "former officers."
So not only is the office of State's Attorney Ed Brodsky not arresting Fornal for lying in sworn statements, not only is his office not dropping the cases in which the charges hinge on Fornal's sworn statements, but his office is actually seeking to bar jurors deciding the guilt of people charged with crimes from even knowing that Fornal resigned from the sheriff's department in the face of an investigation into allegations that he has lied about prior arrests.