Fla. police commanding officer fired in wake of court appearance

(CBS News) A top official of the Florida Highway Patrol is out of a job, and other members may be in trouble. It all stems from a deadly accident caused by a trooper last year.

But, as reported on "CBS This Morning," it's why critics say the crash is part of a larger problem among officers.

One year ago this month, Detrick McClellan, a Florida highway trooper, answered a call about rocks being thrown from an overpass.

McClellan -- driving more than 100 miles an hour with his emergency lights off -- rounded a curve and slammed into 51-year-old Michelle Campbell's car. The crash killed Campbell and badly hurt her niece and granddaughter.

McClellan was fired and given three traffic tickets.

Nine months later, a video shows McClellan in court. Seven other troopers were also there and seen laughing and joking before the judge.

The officer who issued the tickets never showed up in court. Within two minutes, the case against McClellan was dropped.

The judge can be heard saying in the video, "Hearing no objection, or no one's here, I will go on and dismiss the citations."

Florida Highway Patrol investigators are now determining whether the seven troopers present at the hearing acted inappropriately. So far, the FHP has fired a commanding officer, demoted a sergeant and continues to review the actions of the others in court that day.

Watch Mark Strassmann's full report in the video above.

McClellan's story is the latest black eye for Florida law enforcement. Last year, an investigation by the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel revealed that Florida police routinely break speeding laws, sometimes causing serious, even fatal accidents. Since 2004, speeding officers caused at least 320 accidents involving 19 deaths across the state.

In a statement, the FHP told CBS News that "We have taken steps to ensure that our members understand the high ethical expectations we have of them."

Campbell's relatives remain furious. They believe the troopers were looking out for each other -- rather than justice.

The situation is hard to get a handle on, according to CBS News legal analyst Jack Ford. He said on "CBS This Morning," "First of all, you have to realize. It's not unusual that the investigative police officer didn't show up for the hearing. ... That can happen. He apparently called and said he had a medical emergency and it was checked out. Sometimes that happens. Also, it's not terribly unusual that the victims apparently weren't given notice so that they were not there. Sometimes that stuff falls through the cracks. What was unusual, based on courts I've been in, in a case such as this, the first time its listing, with all of those things taking place for a judge to say, 'We're going to dismiss the charges.' In the cases I've been in such as this, the judge says to defendant and his attorney, 'Look, I'm sorry you're here, for whatever reason, the investigating officer is sick, it happens, we didn't send notices, apparently somebody dropped the ball on these other people, so what are we going to do? We're going to reschedule it. Everybody come on in, and we'll see what happens.' If you go down the road, and you still don't have people show up, then courts will sometimes say, 'OK, I'm going just going to dismiss it, nobody's going to be here. That's what's curious about this, it gets dismissed when the investigating officer apparently was ill and the report was that other people hadn't been given notice.

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