Venice FHP trooper under fire over testimony
By Lee Williams
Published: Saturday, May 12, 2012 at 10:03 p.m.
The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating whether a trooper from the Venice office testified falsely under oath last month about a DUI arrest he made.
They are also investigating why no one took any action after the State Attorney's Office warned them more than a month ago that there were inconsistencies in the trooper's testimony.
Scott Kunstmann, a trooper since 2007, was placed on administrative duty pending the outcome of the investigation. He declined to comment.
Allegations about Kunstmann were first raised by Robert Culbertson, whom the trooper arrested last November for DUI while the 71-year-old retiree was southbound on I-75.
Culbertson said much of what he read in the trooper's arrest report and heard when the trooper testified under oath in a deposition does not match his recollections of events. It also does not match the events recorded on the trooper's own dash-mounted video camera.
Culbertson's defense attorney, Andrea Mogensen, said the trooper was not truthful in either his arrest report or during an April 3 deposition she conducted.
“He knowingly made false statements under oath,” she said. “I think the agency really needs to take a serious look at their policy of reviewing the work of their troopers.”
The State Attorney's Office threw out Culbertson's case on the eve of trial, just as jury selection was set to begin.
Once the charges were dismissed, Assistant State Attorney Spencer Rasnake said he warned Kunstmann's supervisor there were problems with the trooper's testimony.
“On our end, inconsistencies created by the deposition and the report made it difficult for us to go forward,” Rasnake said. “At this point, we don't have enough information to say he made a false statement. Any criminal investigation would need to be conducted by the Florida Highway Patrol or FDLE.”
He stopped short of saying the trooper perjured himself. Asked why, Rasnake said, “I guess that's me, looking for the good in everybody.”
Culbertson, a 71-year-old retired criminology professor and consultant from Ft. Myers, went through Kunstmann's report and testimony line by line. He prepared a 10-page, single-spaced report highlighting all of the alleged inaccuracies.
For Mogensen and Rasnake, there were two major inconsistencies: the smell of alcohol and medical impairment.
In his report, Kunstmann wrote, “I could smell a strong odor of alcoholic beverage on his breath.”
In his deposition, Kunstmann testified he noticed the smell right at the beginning of the traffic stop.
In the dash cam video tape, however, Kunstmann and another trooper can be heard discussing the lack of an alcohol odor.
“I didn't smell nothing neither,” one of the troopers said to the other.
According to the report, Kunstmann asks Culbertson if he had any medical problems, because any impairment could affect Culbertson's ability to perform field sobriety tests.
“He stated ‘No,'” the report reads.
In the dash cam video, however, Culbertson told the trooper he suffers from lumbar stenosis, a painful narrowing of the spinal canal that squeezes the spinal cord, causing pain in the back, legs and feet.
Culbertson told the trooper about his impairment at least three times, the video shows.
Mogensen said both issues were crucial, since the lack of an alcohol odor affected the trooper's probable cause to require field sobriety tests and Culbertson's medical condition affected his ability to pass the tests.
Mogensen also said Culbertson is considering filing a lawsuit against Kuntsmann and the
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