Last month, a federal arbitrator named Charlotte Gold ruled that Hillsborough County in Florida was justified in firing a firefighter named Clinton Neal Walker because he was an out in good standings former member of the American Outlaws Association’s St. Petersburg, Florida chapter and because he placed “the interests of a friend and mentor – an individual who continued a strong relationship with a motorcycle gang – over and above those of law enforcement.”
The truth is that Walker was fired in January 2018 because he had joined the Outlaws at the invitation of a (now) retired Hillsborough Fire Captain named James Costa and a local reporter for Tampa television station WFTS named Jarrod Holbrook sensationalized Walker and Costa’s membership in a motorcycle club and insisted, in repeated television reports, that local officials do something about the danger to the general public that, Holbrook insisted, the two men posed.
Holbrook broadcast his reports in 2016 and 2017. They were a sort of television parody of investigative journalism. Holbrook was identified by WFTS as an “I-Team investigator.” He told his audience that “The I-Team found there’s been a recent string of violence among local motorcycle clubs” and that “Law enforcement classifies some of those clubs as criminal gangs and criminal enterprises. Florida law enforcement agencies including right here in Tampa Bay are on high alert.”
“The Department of Justice officially lists seven major motorcycle gangs as ‘criminal enterprises’ nationwide,” Holbrook said. “The Outlaws and Pagans top that list and frequent national headlines with their involvement in drug trafficking, arson and even organized murder. Both of these notorious MCs have members who live on salaries paid for by the taxpayers of Tampa Bay.”
Holbrook singled out Costa, Walker and a Pasco County Fire Captain and Pagans Motorcycle Club chapter president Glen Buzze as examples of men who lived “on salaries paid for by the taxpayers of Tampa Bay.”
The initial reports were in May 2016, a so-called “sweeps month,” and were blatantly intended to improve the television stations ratings more than inform the public to an actual injustice or danger.
Two days after Holbrook’s intial report, Walker was attacked in a St, Petersburg bar by a policeman named Ruben DeJesus. As Walker stood with his hands behind his back, DeJesus Tased him four times, handcuffed him and then kicked him in the groin. Walker was arrested, The charges against him were eventually dropped.
Four months after Holbrook made Walker famous in Florida, Walker was involved in a bar brawl in Key West. He was eventually charged with simple battery and suspended from his job for 10 days. Two months after that, in November, another ratings sweeps month, Holbrook and WFTS ran another sensational news feature about the brawl headlined, “I-Team: Hillsborough Firefighter and Outlaw faces Battery charge after biker brawl.”
In fact, Walker was no longer an Outlaw. As a result of Holbrook’s reports the County instituted a policy that stipulated:
“All Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Employees” were forbidden from “any membership or voluntary participation by Fire Rescue employees with an outside organization that is recognized by government agencies to support or be involved in criminal or illegal discriminatory activity…. Therefore, effective immediately, all Hillsborough County Fire Rescue employees are prohibited from being a member of or voluntarily participating with any outside organization as defined below: Any group, organization or gang characterized by the commission of, or involvement in, a pattern of criminal conduct as identified by the State of Florida or Federal government. Examples listed in the 2015 National Gang Report include, but are not limited to, Crips, Bloods, Surenos, Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation, Gangster Disciples, Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, Pagans, Vagos, Sons of Violence, Outlaws, Banditos and The Mongols.”
In order to keep his job, Walker had resigned from his club in good standing.
The following July, another sweeps month, using anonymous police sources, Holbrook reported on an ongoing feud between members of the Outlaws and members of the 69’ers Motorcycle Club. “The I-Team found there’s been a recent string of violence among local motorcycle clubs. Law enforcement classifies some of those clubs as criminal gangs and criminal enterprises. Florida law enforcement agencies including right here in Tampa Bay are on high alert.”
Two days later, Costa was shot while riding his motorcycle south of Tampa. A 69’er named Christopher Brian “Durty” Cosimano has been indicted for the shooting.
“The shooting comes just two days after the I-Team uncovered a rise in local violence between motorcycle clubs,” Holbrook told his audience. “Sources tell us Clint Walker, a Hillsborough county firefighter and paramedic, responded to the scene after Costa was shot. Sources say when deputies tried to take Costa’s leather Outlaws vest, he refused to give it to them, and instead gave it to Walker.”
“Hillsborough Fire Rescue spokespeople… will review if Walker broke any policies by taking the Outlaws vest.”
To an outsider who is not Jarrod Holbrook, Walker’s action that night hardly seem criminal. He was mostly interested in his friend. Although he was off duty, he put on his uniform, went to the crime scene and rode to the hospital with his friend. He probably couldn’t have done that without putting on his uniform.
He took possession of Costa’s vest and refused to surrender it to a Hillsborough County Deputy at the hospital. He said he intended to give it to Costa’s wife instead. He did let the deputy photograph the vest. To an outsider who is not Jarrod Holbrook, Walker’s actions seem inspired more by personal loyalty than insubordination.
But that was enough to get Walker fired. And last month an arbitrator named Charlotte Gold decided that “By wearing his HCFR t-shirt at the hospital, he (Walker) gained favor for himself in violation of the county’s uniform regulations….” He “conducted himself in a manner that was detrimental to the department.”
“The conclusion is inescapable,” Gold wrote, “that he affected the county’s standing in the community.”
“His behavior ultimately reflected poorly on the county and his profession in general.”
Holbrook has now left television for politics. He is now Communications Director for Tampa mayoral hopeful David A. Straz Jr.