OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. - WFTV learned Friday that a Kissimmee police officer is under investigation for alleged witness tampering.
Investigators said the officer may have tried to persuade a witness in a case against him not to testify.
WFTV's Berndt Petersen found out the investigation is connected to a traffic accident on July 2 at the intersection of John Young Parkway and Oak Street.
Kissimmee police Officer Justin Patterson, behind the wheel of an unmarked police SUV, was ticketed by a trooper for rear-ending another vehicle at the stop light. But instead of paying the fine, he fought the ticket.
In Osceola County court a month later, Patterson, Highway Patrol Sgt. John Britt and the driver who was rear-ended, Keith Griffin, were all present at first. But the case was dismissed because Griffin disappeared.
"The driver told him that he was told he was no longer needed in the court proceedings by the Kissimmee officer. So, he left," said FHP spokeswoman Kim Montes.
"Does the investigation have to do with alleged witness tampering?" Peterson asked.
"I don't know. They don't give me that information," said Stacie Miller, spokeswoman for the Kissimmee Police Department. "It’s an open internal investigation on allegations that were brought to the department. We can't go into any more detail than that until the investigation is completed."
"This is classic witness tampering,” said WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer.
Sheaffer bases his opinion on the letter Britt sent to the judge, saying the witness was encouraged by the defendant to leave the courthouse prior to the hearing. The judge agreed to reset it and Kissimmee police launched an internal investigation into what some familiar with the case said may be witness tampering to beat a traffic ticket.
Sheaffer said this could also be obstruction of justice.
"Even the most rookie police officer who has ever conducted a traffic stop and written a ticket knows that if the other driver is not there or the arresting officer is not there, or the officer who issued the citation, that case when called will be dismissed,” said Sheaffer.
"We investigate every single one of them. We take them very seriously. Our officers are held to a higher standard," said Miller.
WFTV learned that Patterson was involved in another patrol car crash four years ago and was ticketed by FHP for careless driving.