By Mark Andrews
WINTER PARK - A judge has dismissed a felony charge against a Winter Park paramedic who tape-recorded a meeting with city officials in May.
Joe Powell learned Wednesday he will not face a criminal charge for taping conversations in City Manager Tony Barrett's office May 22. The meeting concerned the accidental spraying of a toxic chemical mislabeled as bug spray in the city's fire stations two weeks earlier.
The spraying forced the evacuation of the stations and prompted firefighters to question whether city officials had acted quickly enough to ensure their safety.
Powell had said he wanted to record the meeting in case he had to leave for an emergency rescue call and so that he could share the information with firefighters and paramedics who weren't there.
But while Powell was away on a call, city personnel chief Pat Moran seized his cassette recorder. City officials maintained that Powell had illegally recorded a private meeting, and they filed a police report. The Orange-Osceola state attorney's office later charged Powell with illegally taping the meeting.
But Orange Circuit Judge Richard F. Conrad threw out the charge in an order signed Monday. Basing his decision on a 1985 Florida Supreme Court case, Conrad said the taping was not illegal because the parties "had no reasonable expectation of privacy."
That was because the meeting in a public official's office was attended by 16 to 20 people, some of whom went in and out of the room, and because the conversation could be heard in an adjoining room, Conrad wrote.
Powell, who has received a promotion to paramedic engineer since his August arrest, said he is relieved that the case is behind him.
"In the last six months, my family and the fire department have been through a lot of useless turmoil.
All of this didn't need to happen. It was totally unnecessary," he said. "All I can say is the system works."
Barrett said late Wednesday that he had decided recently to ask the state attorney's office not to prosecute the case.
"We told the state attorney we weren't interested in pursuing the case," the city manager said. "We felt like it was in the best interests of the city to put it all behind us."
Powell and his attorney, Russell Troutman, said they have not decided whether to file a civil suit against the city because of Powell's arrest.
The Orlando Sentinel
Thu. November 8, 1990