A federal arbitrator says Hillsborough County was justified in firing a Fire Rescue medic who belonged to the Outlaws Motorcycle Club, noting the negative attention his membership brought the county.
Clinton Neal Walker, 35, of Bradenton, was fired a year ago after an internal investigation concluded he had "unwavering loyalty" to the Outlaws, long considered the state's dominant motorcycle gang.
He was the first Hillsborough employee to be investigated for gang activity under a series of county ordinances that prohibit membership in any organization the state or federal government considers criminal, including the Outlaws St. Petersburg Chapter where Walker was a member.
Arbitrator Charlotte Gold released her ruling in mid-January, ending a year-long fight by the local chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters to save Walker's job. Her report provided new insight into biker gang culture within the county's fire department and throughout the Tampa Bay area.
"HCFR employees, including chiefs and a fire medic, attended MC (motorcycle club) events," Gold wrote, and "many of its members were ex-military."
Walker earned a Bronze Star, among other medals and awards, while in the U.S. Marine Corps. And as a county firefighter he was awarded a Medal of Valor. But Walker also had a long disciplinary history and "conducted himself in a manner that was detrimental to the department," Gold wrote.
"The conclusion is inescapable that he affected the county's standing in the community," Gold wrote in her report. "His behavior ultimately reflected poorly on the county and his profession in general."
Walker testified he had resigned from the Outlaws in October 2016, before the county issued a directive prohibiting all employees from "being a member of or voluntarily participating with any outside gang, as defined in the FBI's 2015 National Gang Report." The ban came two months after Walker was arrested in Key West for throwing the first punch in a bar fight that left two employees injured and involved as many as 15 other Outlaws, one wearing a T-shirt with a swastika on it and others who used racial slurs.
Walker ultimately negotiated a plea deal for the Key West fight and received a paid suspension from the county for 30 days. He was still serving that suspension when now-retired Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Captain James Costa, then president of the Outlaw's St. Petersburg chapter, was shot by members of the rival 69ers Motorcycle Club while riding his motorcycle in south Hillsborough in July 2017. According to the report, Costa fired back. The shooting has since been tied to the shooting death of another Outlaw, Paul Anderson, in December 2017.
Walker was one of about 10 Outlaws who got a call from Costa and another Hillsborough County Fire Rescue medic telling them that Costa was being taken to a medical center in Manatee County with bullet wounds. Though he wasn't on duty, Walker dressed in his Fire Rescue uniform and accompanied Costa into the hospital, taking his motorcycle vest with Outlaw insignia and initially refusing to turn it over to law enforcement.
"By wearing his HCFR t-shirt at the hospital, he gained favor for himself in violation of the county's uniform regulations," Gold wrote in her report. "He then proceeded to place the interests of a friend and mentor—an individual who continued a strong relationship with a motorcycle gang—over and above those of law enforcement."
According to the report, Fire Rescue management has known about both Walker and Costa's membership in the Outlaws since about 2008. Costa joined the Outlaws in 2002, and recruited Walker while working as his supervisor in Sun City Center's Fire Station 28.
The new rules, and the ensuing investigation into Walker's conduct, happened as a wave of bar brawls, bad behavior and execution-style killings between rival biker gangs swept across the Tampa Bay area, implicating firefighters in Hillsborough, Polk and Pasco counties.
James William Earl, 32, became the latest victim when he was gunned down in the driveway of his Spring Hill home on Jan. 16. Investigators say it's unclear if Earl's death was connected to his membership in the Pagan Motorcycle Club. The following week, FBI agents raided the nearby home of Glen Buzze, a "Pagan" who works as a paramedic for Pasco County Fire Rescue and held the rank of captain.