Depositions Underway in HCSO "Sex Party" Case, Evidence May Show Officials Fabricated Documents
Last updated 7/22/2023 at 1:49pm
BROOKSVILLE – Last year, former Hernando County Sheriff's deputy Matthew Puglia filed a lawsuit against the agency, claiming he was wrongfully terminated for complaining about obscene comments made about his girlfriend.
According to court records, while Puglia was still under a probationary status with the agency, recently-separated deputy Joseph McClellan made sexually charged statements about the breast size of Puglia's girlfriend and urged them to join in on "agency" sex parties. McClellan, who was known as the "de facto leader of the sex parties," even tried to connect with Puglia's girlfriend behind his back. Despite several attempts to resolve the issues with his superiors, they had no interest in helping Puglia; instead, they began a coordinated effort to rid Puglia of the agency. Lt. Scott Reak even told Puglia he had a "bad name," and that he was no longer welcome at HCSO.
Most lawsuits filed against law enforcement agencies end in settlements and require the plaintiff to sign a non-disclosure, but it seems that Puglia has no intention on settling, as the case has now moved into the discovery phase, which includes deposing the defendants.
Over the last week, Puglia's attorney, John "Jack" Webb, has deposed Sgt. William Hillman, Joseph McClellan, Lt. Scott Reak, and Maj. Phil Lakin. Sgt. John Ellis, Col. Kenneth Hayden, and Sheriff Nienhuis are scheduled to be deposed, but Nienhuis's deposition is temporarily on hold, pending a review of evidence discovered in the previous depositions.
HCSO's attorney, David Stefany of Allen Norton and Blue, has fought arduously to prevent the release of emails, text messages, and other evidence that might implicate Nienhuis and the other defendants in a conspiracy to commit fraud, falsify documents, and violate Puglia's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Webb even asserts that crimes were committed by the defendants for falsifying probationary reports. HCSO claims Puglia was terminated prior to the completion of his probationary period for poor report writing, but Puglia claims he was never afforded an opportunity to review the probationary reports, which is a violation of HCSO policy.
Sources say, there may be documents that were intentionally altered regarding Puglia's termination that would constitute a crime, if determined to be authentic.
It should be noted that earlier this year, Joseph McClellan was caught lying about making traffic stops and his location, while on duty. Instead of firing McClellan, Nienhuis allowed him to resign to preserve his reputation.
HCSO recently came under fire for blocking citizens and deleting critical comments on the agency's Facebook page. At least one lawsuit is preparing to be filed against the agency for First Amendment violations, and others may soon follow.
Nienhuis has not announced his intent to run for a third term, which has some wondering if he's waiting for the outcome of the Puglia case to make a decision.
Webb anticipates trial to begin sometime in January, unless HCSO chooses to settle.