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Detective, Four Deputies, Could Face Jail Time if Held in Contempt

BROOKSVILLE – Chief Judge Daniel B. Merritt Jr. could hold several Hernando County Sheriff's deputies and a detective in contempt of court if they can't explain why they failed to appear for depositions in a 2023 manslaughter case.

According to court records, Deputies Mitchell Vesper, Chelsea Reid, John Longobardi, and Craig Milne all failed to appear for depositions on September 12, 2023, and again on December 20, 2023, in reference to State vs Regina Cassie Ritter. Detective Kevin Keiper also missed two depositions on July 18, 2023, and on December 20, 2023, in reference to the same case.

On March 7th, all five employees received written reprimands for failing to attend the court-ordered depositions. Employees of the Sheriff's Office receive electronic subpoenas when they are required to appear for depositions or testify in court. All five employees received email notifications for the scheduled depositions, and it was documented that every email was opened and read. Each employee received a written reprimand for violating agency policy.

On March 13th, Judge Merritt ordered all five employees to appear in court on April 25th to explain why they should not be held in contempt and jailed for up to five months and 29 days.

Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) President Wayne Peterson tells R News that the defendants will have representation if they are FOP members.

We asked Sheriff Al Nienhuis if there was an explanation for his deputies and detective missing the same depositions or if it was just a coincidence and he said, "If the deputies had a justifiable reason for their lack of attendance, they would not have received written reprimands."

There is speculation that Nienhuis met with Judge Merritt to discuss the issue, but he has declined to respond.

Nienhuis has come under fire by Hernando County residents who claim his failed leadership is creating chaos within the ranks. Nienhuis is up for reelection this year and there are rumors that he may have an opponent.

In addition to the five Sheriff's Office employees, a State Medical Examiner employee, and three other individuals have been ordered to appear in front of Judge Merritt to explain why they missed depositions.

We will bring more on this story as it develops.


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