BROOKSVILLE – Last month, R News received numerous tips from anonymous sources inside the Hernando County Sheriff's Office (HCSO) who claimed the former deputy and agency "Sex Party Ringleader" Joseph McClellan had been arrested due to a domestic dispute. R News immediately began investigating those claims and discovered that the altercation may have arisen from McClellan discovering his wife was being unfaithful.
According to reports, on December 21, 2023, Sheriff's Deputies responded to an undisclosed location in Spring Hill, where McClellan's wife Brieann McClellan reported that her husband had taken her cellphone and "deprived her of calling for law enforcement during a verbal altercation." Brieann explained that she became fearful of her husband because he was yelling and screaming and thought that a "crime" was about to be committed. Brieann was able to use a tablet device to contact her mother through a video call. During the call, Brieann's mother Jessica Vore could hear Joseph yelling in the background. It should be noted that Brieann and her mother are both employees at HCSO.
During the investigation, deputies made contact with Joseph who agreed to speak with deputies post Miranda. Joseph stated that he was engaged in a verbal altercation with Brieann over infidelity issues. The person whom Brieann was allegedly having an affair with is a current HCSO deputy, however, officials refuse to identify that witness or the location of where the alleged affair took place.
Deputy Daniel Vidas arrested Joseph stating, "The defendant knowingly used or attempted to use intimidation or physical force against the victim by physically depriving her cellular device from her without giving it back. The defendant did so with intent to hinder, delay, or prevent the communication to a law enforcement officer or judge of information relating to the possible commission of a domestic assault and/or battery. This office involved the hindrance of a misdemeanor offense, as previously stated." Joseph was booked into the Hernando County Jail on a charge of Witness Tampering and was afforded a $5,000 bond.
When a civilian is arrested, their mugshots are immediately available for public view, and arrest affidavits are easily obtained, but the same level of transparency doesn't seem to apply when an employee or acquaintance of the Nienhuis administration is charged.
At the onset of our investigation on December 22nd, R News submitted a formal inquiry with HCSO, requesting McClellan's arrest affidavit and questioning why his mugshot was not available on the jail website. After a week of waiting for a response, R News finally received separate copies of the affidavit which had slight differences. One of the documents listed McClellan as an HCSO Deputy and the other listed his occupation as working for Crockett's Towing. The records clerk who provided the documents advised that the original report was in error. That could be the case except that when employees are involved in criminal investigations, special care is usually taken to ensure no errors occur. With Brieann working in the ARMS Department (The department where deputies submit their reports for filing) and her mother being a supervisor in Communications, it doesn't seem likely that it was a simple oversight. Some sources speculate that by entering McClellan as an employee, it would be difficult for the record to be located and or released upon request.
Due to prior coverups by the Nienhuis administration, I asked Nienhuis if he was trying to conceal the arrest to shield his political campaign from public scrutiny. Nienhuis denied claims of a coverup stating, "We did not protect his identity." He went on to state that current and former law enforcement officers are exempt from public records requests, however, it does not require an agency to conceal mugshots from being made public. Even Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, whom Nienhuis says he models himself after, enthusiastically reveals the identity of his own deputies if they commit crimes.
R News attempted to review First Appearance video on the Fifth Judicial Circuit YouTube page, but before Judge Barbara-Jo Bell called McClellan to the stand, the video suddenly stops.
According to court records, Brieann filed a petition for protection against domestic violence on December 26th, and her case was immediately placed on the court docket for the next day in front of Judge Don Barbee. In most cases, a DVI (Domestic Violence Injunction) hearing is scheduled within 14 days. They are rarely ever heard by a judge the very next day because defendants must be served and given time to prepare. On December 27th Judge Barbee heard the case and ultimately denied her petition, which is unusual when a defendant is facing a related felony charge. Sources say they most likely expedited the case to prevent the public from being notified or attending the proceeding.
Sheriff Nienhuis allowed McClellan to resign from HCSO last year after an Internal Affairs investigation revealed that he was lying about making traffic stops, turning off his dash-cam, and allowing a civilian ride along to conduct a traffic stop.
Ironically, Brieann was featured alongside her husband in a March 15, 2023, agency Facebook post highlighting Women's History Month. That same month, Internal Affairs began their investigation into his policy violations. It was also around that time that R News began receiving numerous tips that Joseph McClellan was the "ringleader" of the "agency-sanctioned" sex parties.
Last month, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Marsy's Law would no longer protect current or former law enforcement officers or victims of crime from public disclosure exemptions. Most agencies have complied with the court order but Sheriff Al Nienhuis has refused to accept the new standard and will not release information that is no longer protected.