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Sue Carlton, Times Columnist

Sue Carlton

Sue Carlton is a native Floridian from a longtime Southern family that her father always said consisted of thieves and cattle rustlers run out of Georgia. She grew up in Miami and joined the Tampa Bay Times in 1988. Over the years she has covered community news, politics, cops, government, and her all-time favorite, criminal courts. For nearly nine years she wrote about the kind of strange cases that only seem to happen here, about intriguing legal issues and courthouse politics. On that beat, she authored a lengthy narrative series on a trooper who killed his wife and co-authored a series on a suburban mother murdered by her teenage daughter and her friends. Sue was the deputy editor of the features section and was the Tampa city editor before she became a columnist in 2005. Three times a week, she writes about politics, outrages, observations, court cases of the day and whatever else comes up. She lives in Tampa with her husband and their very good dog.

Phone: (813) 226-3376 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 3376


  1. Carlton: How easy is it to believe a hate crime happened here?

    Human Interest

    No matter how it turns out, this is not a story you want to hear about your town.

    On the night of Jan. 9, four friends — all in their 20s, all medical students at the University of South Florida — left an Irish pub in Tampa after watching Clemson squeak past Alabama in the college football playoff national championship game. The four headed to Hyde Park's SoHo district, a mecca of bars and restaurants on sometimes rowdy S Howard Avenue....

    Mohammad Usman Ahmad
  2. Carlton: A surprising story of the police and the homeless

    Public Safety

    At first, the rumpled lump tucked high under the eaves of a noisy Interstate 275 overpass looks to be no more than a pile of trash — garbage bags, tattered rags, assorted junk. Then it moves.

    The sun has been up a while now and Tampa police Officer Randi Whitney bounds up the angled concrete to wake what turns out to be a disheveled bear of a man who rises to tower over her. She recognizes him. He knows her, too — one of two city cops who are homeless liaisons....

    Tampa police Officer Randi Whitney, one of two homeless liaison officers in the department, patrols behind Seventh Avenue businesses in Ybor City, looking for homeless people to help. She knows the homeless by name, and they know her. Sometimes she helps them find shelter, sometimes she just listens.
  3. Carlton: TV news, courts and death all due for big change


    To certain people-in-the-news who have experienced parking lot encounters with TV reporter Mike Deeson — along with his camera and his pointed questions usually alleging malfeasance — perhaps this was good news:

    At age 68, the dogged Deeson will be hanging up his microphone and retiring from 10News WTSP after 35 years in local news.

    This was breaking stuff, abrupt and unexpected, since Deeson showed no signs of slowing despite being the last of the old-school street reporters, complete with a dozen Emmys on his shelf....

    Mike Deeson, an award-wining investigative reporter at 10News WTSP, is retiring after 35 years in local news.
  4. Carlton: In a decade, Lady Justice has seen it all


    If you are a frequenter of downtown Tampa's courthouses, maybe you already know this:

    Justice is not blind. Not Lady Justice, anyway.

    Ten years ago today, a crowd gathered outside Hills­borough County's bustling George Edgecomb Courthouse. A white sheet was ceremoniously whisked away and there she was in all her towering 2,000-pound glory: a bronze statue of a woman called "Veritas et Justitia," truth and justice, and after that Lady Justice to everyone....

    Audrey Flack’s “Lady Justice” sculpture stands in front of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Court.
  5. Carlton: Horses, kids, politics, and releasing your inner Dudley Do-Right


    One day you're just a rich guy with a really big business-and-beer name.

    The next, people are eyeing you like you're Snidely Whiplash.

    You remember Snidely — that dastardly cartoon villain in the black cape and mustache determined to tie the heroine to the railroad tracks?

    Only we're not talking about Dudley Do-Right's damsel in distress in the real-life version here. We're talking about special needs kids and the horses who help them....

    Volunteer McKenzie Johnson walks Christina Freeman on a horse named Chase this month after winning a second place ribbon. The Bakas Equestrian Center hosts an equestrian skills event for the Special Olympics in Tampa. Since 2001, physically and mentally disabled children have experienced the joy of horse-riding and forged deep connections with the animals at Bakas Equestrian Center. Parents say the time with horses gives their children more confidence and self-esteem and helps them improve their balance and coordination.  [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
  6. Carlton: A rainy day for counting those who don't seem to count (w/video)

    Human Interest

    At first, it looked like the rain might change everything.

    This was Thursday before dawn, when the first shift of more than 300 volunteers in red T-shirts would begin hitting the streets of Hillsborough County to count the people living on them — in alleys and cars, in office doorways under swaths of old cardboard, behind dumpsters and in woods. This was the yearly homeless census, a snapshot in time to help determine the size of the homeless population — and the funding needed to combat it....

    Katie Forest, a Hillsborough Homeless Initiative volunteer, surveys Jason Lowe, 37, who’s been homeless for six months.
  7. Carlton: Ybor City to lose that distinctive, century-old smell of roasting coffee


    The smell is rich, warm, slightly nutty — almost but not quite burned. It's a smell that is as much a part of Ybor City as the roosters that strut with impunity across its historic brick streets, as Ybor as a pressed Cuban and a steamy cup of cafe con leche.

    Some mornings, this particular aroma drifts west into downtown Tampa, warming a city just waking up. If I'm lucky, it wafts over to my neighborhood not far away — the distinctive scent of Naviera coffee beans roasting in the mill as they have in this town for nearly a century....

    Alibey Alvarez works on packaging espresso beans at Naviera Coffee Mills in Ybor City. The operation will soon be leaving its longtime home for a larger plant in an industrial area on E Henry Avenue. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  8. Carlton: Please, Publix, give peace (and pastrami) a chance


    Dear Publix,

    Okay, let's get the sappy part out of the way.

    Some of us who grew up with you — walking through your automatic doors into the smell of baking bread, weighing ourselves since kindergarten on those big scales in your lobbies, watching polite bag boys roll our moms' groceries to the car — well, we would sooner bleed Publix green than shop another store....

  9. Carlton: Could salty talk be the final straw for the PTC?


    Let us consider what's been said over the years about Hillsborough County's Public Transportation Commission. Oh, where to start.

    There are the allegations of the PTC's cozy relationship with the taxi and limo industry it's supposed to regulate.

    Or the fact that the PTC is the only such standalone agency in a state in which other local governments seem to handle the same duties without all the vitriol....

  10. Carlton: Will new state attorney give DUI drivers a big break?


    The question — posed to just-elected Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren in a room full of lawyers not yet sure what to make of the new guy — was a good one.

    In courts across Florida, certain first-time offenders get the chance to avoid trials — and more importantly criminal records — for less serious offenses. Would the new state attorney consider starting such a diversion program for people charged with DUI?...

  11. Carlton: Conservative commissioner hopes to vanish without a trace


    Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham will probably not miss me.

    Okay, maybe it's the overall attention he won't miss. He is by his own description a shy and quiet man — but also an elected official, which means having your votes scrutinized and on occasion thrown back at you.

    A Republican voice on the board since 2006, Higginbotham surprised not a few people with the recent announcement that he does not plan to run again when his term is up in 2018. Sam Rashid, a powerful east county political activist, said Higginbotham "was told he could not run for re-election" after he displeased conservative loyal supporters....

  12. Carlton: Standing your ground? Prove it


    For those already not enamored with a "stand your ground" law that makes it easier for people in Florida to shoot and kill with impunity, get ready:

    Lawmakers might be about to make it worse.

    Anyone familiar with the name George Zimmerman knows our controversial law says you can use deadly force with no obligation to back down or flee if you feel threatened. Critics say stand your ground has the potential to cheapen human life, and a Tampa Bay Times investigation found the law has been applied unevenly across the state....

  13. Carlton: Janet Reno, bona fide Floridian

    Human Interest

    As a prosecutor just out of law school, Lyann Goudie found herself invited to the boss' house for a party.

    Hers was no ordinary boss.

    Miami-Dade State Attorney Janet Reno was 6-foot-1, Harvard Law, fiercely smart, a little intimidating.

    The party was at her home at the edge of the Everglades. Reno's employees' kids ran everywhere. Hot dogs grilled and peacocks roamed free. There on the porch sat Reno's mother, challenging guests to a game of cards. And there was Reno, the boss, in a long, loose, comfortable dress....

    Janet Reno once said, “I’m not fancy. I’m what I appear to be.” [BILL COOKE | Special to the Times]
  14. Carlton: A mayor, a ferry and a swarm of bees

    Public Safety

    Notes from the boat and other news of the week:

    Tongues were wagging as assorted elected officials and local leaders made the first ceremonial trip on the Cross-Bay Ferry this week.

    The subject of the chatter: the presence of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, or lack thereof.

    Buckhorn was on hand on land in Tampa to greet the ferry as it arrived on its inaugural jaunt from St. Petersburg with that city's Mayor Rick Kriseman aboard. Another batch of notables waited on the Tampa dock as the boat readied for the journey back, Buckhorn among them....

    The Cross-Bay ferry leaves downtown St. Petersburg on its debut journey across Tampa Bay last week.
  15. Carlton: Say it ain't so: Even a judicial election gets ugly


    On a pretty fall afternoon last Sunday, the good citizens of Hills­borough County stopped by the Jan Platt Library in South Tampa to cast their early votes.

    Outside, campaign supporters waved signs. Birds sang and children played. The scene was practically Rockwellian.

    Until things got "loud," "out of hand" and "ugly" — in the words of the poll worker who called 911.

    And all of this was related to a race between two people running not in that bloodbath of a campaign for president, but to be a local judge....

    Tampa lawyers Gary Dolgin and Melissa "Missy" Polo are vying for a circuit court seat. [Times files]