Judge Threatens Sanctions Against Sheriff's Office During "Sex Party" Case Hearing
Last updated 9/26/2023 at 2:25pm
TAMPA Things just keep getting worse for top brass at the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office, after a Federal Judge threatened to impose sanctions against the agency during a hearing in Tampa on Tuesday.
Former Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) Deputy Matthew Puglia is suing the agency for wrongful termination and violation of his civil rights after he complained about deputies pressuring him and his girlfriend to join in on the “agency-endorsed” sex parties. Puglia claims a series of attacks and harassment ensued by his peers and claims the leadership did nothing to stop it. Instead, Puglia alleges that the defendants conspired to force him out of the agency by falsifying probationary reports and other documents. (We will provide links in the comment section with related articles)
During Tuesday’s hearing, Federal Judge Christopher Tuite heard arguments between the Plaintiff’s attorney John “Jack” Webb, and the HCSO’s attorney David Stephany regarding a motion to compel evidence, Webb says is relevant to the case.
Webb filed a motion for the release of documents that may prove leadership at the agency treated Puglia differently from all other probationary deputies. HCSO policy states that Sheriff Al Nienhuis is the final decision maker in whether a deputy completes the annual probationary period or is terminated, but that did not occur in Puglia’s case. Stephany wanted to limit the amount of discovery to what had already been provided, stating that it would be too cumbersome for the agency to conduct that search.
Webb is requesting the release of all Internal Affairs investigations regarding any past or present employees who may be related to the Puglia case, including former deputy Joseph McLellan, who Webb claims was the “de facto leader” of the agency sex parties. McLellan was terminated earlier this year after an investigation revealed that he lied about his whereabouts while on duty. Some believe McLellan was “sacrificed” to give the appearance that Nienhuis eliminated the “bad apple.” However, evidence proves that the agency has a long history of sexual deviance and misconduct within the ranks that many say is "agency-sanctioned.”
Webb is also seeking all email communications between any defendant or witness who may have discussed Puglia’s probation and the subsequent investigation.
Stephany, again argued, that engaging in a search for that many documents would be unnecessarily burdensome and that the results would bear no relevance to the case.
Over the summer, Webb deposed Col Kenneth Hayden who was involved in overseeing the progress of Puglia’s probation. During the deposition, a heated argument ensued between Webb and Stefani over questions regarding Hayden’s knowledge of a “refrigerator magnet” incident at the main office. In June of 2021, now-former deputy McClellan threatened Puglia with retaliation due to Puglia reporting him to Internal Affairs. McClellan and other co-workers placed magnetic letters on a refrigerator during a squad party that read “2330 EATS DICK” and disseminated a picture of the message. Stefani refused to allow Hayden to answer Webb’s questions regarding the incident and the deposition ended abruptly.
Becoming visibly irritated, Judge Tuite ordered Hayden to attend a second deposition, giving Webb an opportunity to readdress the issue without unwarranted obstruction by Stephany.
Judge Tuite also granted Webb access to all discovery that he requested and warned Stephany that if he was forced to intervene again, sanctions would be imposed against him and or his clients.
Puglia has named Sheriff Al Nienhuis, Maj. Phil Lakin, Col. Kenneth Hayden, Sgt. John Ellis, Sgt. William Hillman, Joseph McClellan, and Lt. Scott Reak as defendants in the lawsuit.
Trial is expected to take place sometime in January 2024 if a settlement isn’t reached beforehand.
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