Tampa police officer fired, accused of lying about crash

TAMPA — Off-duty Tampa police Officer Gregory Pryor was standing next to a badly damaged truck when deputies approached the crash on Interstate 75.

It was 2 a.m. and Pryor seemed drunk, deputies noted. “I’m hammered,” the officer said.

Pryor insisted he wasn’t driving, but the evidence indicated he was the only person in his truck when it rear-ended a semitrailer truck at about 100 mph early Dec. 28, 2012. He grew upset with the deputies at the scene, who thought he was lying.

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“I cannot believe you think I was driving,” one recalled Pryor saying. “So much for the brotherhood, huh?”

The Hillsborough sheriff’s office charged Pryor with giving false information to law enforcement, and deputies continued to investigate. In the end, prosecutors believed they didn’t have enough evidence for a DUI charge.

Then Tampa police launched their own internal investigation.

On Thursday, the agency fired Pryor. The main issue: Police believe Pryor lied about not driving.

“You can do things and get admonished,” assistant chief John Newman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But when it comes to being truthful, that gets to probably one of the basic tenants of law enforcement — and that’s integrity.”

Pryor is the sixth officer to be fired in the past year. Three other officers’ firings were announced in news conferences in the fall. Pryor’s came quietly.

He was never booked into jail, and details of his arrest did not surface until an attorney in an unrelated DUI case mentioned them in a report.

According to the 111-page sheriff’s report, some witnesses estimated Pryor was going more than 100 mph before he hit the semi on I-75 near Ruskin. One witness said she saw only one person in Pryor’s truck before the crash, though no one could definitively say Pryor was the person behind the wheel.

After Pryor rear-ended the semi, both vehicles pulled over, deputies say. The semi’s driver remembers Pryor saying that the man driving his truck had run away. Pryor maintained that story when deputies arrived, saying that a man that he just met — a man named “Jacob” — had been driving because Pryor was intoxicated.

Deputies and the semi-truck’s driver did not believe Pryor.

Pryor’s blood was on the driver’s seat. Only the driver’s airbag had deployed. Also, the front passenger door was jammed shut in the crash. The semi-truck’s driver saw Pryor struggling to pull it open from the outside, but it wouldn’t budge, the sheriff’s report states.

Deputies charged Pryor with giving false information charge and resisting arrest, but the charges were dismissed in October after he completed a misdemeanor intervention program.

For the past couple of months, Pryor worked a non-enforcement job with police helicopters while TPD did an internal affairs investigation. That’s when he started to recant, according to a summary of Tampa police’s investigation.

He acknowledged that he was the driver. He said he did not remember what happened at the crash site. If he was untruthful, it was due to a concussion, he said.

But medical reports did not back up the concussion claim, according to police. The department believes Pryor had lied to sheriff’s deputies and had used his badge to try to get special treatment from the deputies — “and avoid the full consequences of his actions.”

Top prosecutors reviewed Pryor’s crash and did not think they had enough evidence to expect a DUI conviction, Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office spokesman Mark Cox said Thursday.

The sheriff’s case was not handled as a DUI from the start, Cox said, and because of that, prosecutors did not have certain pieces of information, including a blood-alcohol level.

But while that evidence — as well as a witness who could definitively say that Pryor was indeed driving — would have been helpful to prosecutors, it is not necessary to make a case, defense attorney Steve Romine said. Probable cause can come from the other evidence, he said.

Romine was the attorney who last fall brought up Pryor’s 2012 arrest. That’s because Pryor was involved in the investigation of Romine’s client Matthew Moye, a Hillsborough dentist who killed two people while driving drunk in 2010. At that time, Romine was preparing for trial, and defense attorneys are allowed to bring up issues that could cause jurors to question a witness’ credibility.

Before Pryor joined the Tampa Police Department several years ago, he worked for the St. Petersburg Police Department and, before then, the U.S. Air Force.

He had previously been involved in two fatal officer-involved shootings. In 2012, Pryor and another officer shot 16-year-old Javon Neal after Neal pulled a gun on the officer, police say. And in 2011, he shot Carlos Laboy, 26, while officers were trying to arrest him on an armed robbery charge. Pryor thought Laboy was reaching for a gun but later discovered he was unarmed.

Attempts to reach Pryor on Thursday evening were unsuccessful.

Times news researcher John Martin and staff writer Rick Danielson contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3433.