Pasco County deputies considered a kidnapping claim to be false and were ready to close the case, but something seemed off at that time to Hernando County's Det. Rocky Howard.
Sgt. Douglas Campbell recalled how Howard instead chased down the victim that others were ready to write off after they determined he had lied about where he was on the night of his supposed kidnapping.
Howard found out why the victim lied — the man hadn't been at a bar. Instead, he met a woman at a gas station and later went to her home with the expectation that they would have sex. Instead he was jumped by multiple men, robbed, blindfolded and dropped off at another location.
"The guy was telling the truth in that he had been kidnapped, but he made up part of the story because he didn't want his wife to find out he was where he said he was," Campbell said. "But this was initially a Pasco County case and they were ready to close it out. And (Howard) could have allowed it to be closed out. But instead he took it and ran with it and as a result made a case to arrest three people."
Howard returned to duty this week following a 10-day administrative leave stemming from his involvement while off duty in the shooting of a naked woman along Orchard Way in Spring Hill.
He and an off-duty Tampa law enforcement officer were at a gathering when the woman walked up and confronted them. She left and then returned with a weapon, at which time one or both of the officers fired their weapons, killing her.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is handling the investigation.
Howard has no disciplines or internal affairs investigations in his file since he joined the sheriff's office in June 2006.
All of his reviews paint him as a detective with a keen attention to detail. Campbell, who is Howard's supervisor, said the detective has more than a hundred arrests while investigating property crimes — an impressive count by his standards.
"Usually when you're investigating property crimes, you're starting off with no leads," Campbell said. "It takes a lot of legwork."
But he said Howard was a fast learner with a knack for getting suspects to talk.
Following a string of burglaries of cigars and golf clubs from golf pro shops from September 2009 to February 2010, Howard broke the case after again interviewing suspects and being told about a suspicious customer who was seen smoking cigars.
It was enough for Howard to question the man and convince him to provide a DNA sample. Not only was the man's DNA a match with what was found at one of the crime scenes, but Howard got the suspect to confess — clearing five theft cases.
Campbell said it would be his recommendation for Howard to be moved to investigating fraud, forgeries and other similar crimes. Howard has made clear in his file that he's interested in one day investigating major crime cases against people, such as murders.
"As a detective, he's phenomenal. You won't find anyone to say anything bad about him," Campbell said. "He can adapt to any case you throw at him."
Meanwhile, Florida Department of Law Enforcement officials have said that the shooting case is still under investigation and that no details would be released at this time.