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Sheriff Says "No Systemic Issues" with Multiple Missed Depositions as Transparency Wanes

BROOKSVILLE – Yesterday, R News broke the news of several deputies missing depositions in a recent homicide case. Those deputies and a detective could face jail time if a Judge doesn't accept their explanation of why they each ignored two subpoenas.

Under pressure from the media, Sheriff Al Nienhuis released a statement this morning, asserting that the incident is isolated and there are no systemic issues with deputies ignoring subpoenas. Nienhuis says, "The Hernando County Sheriff's Office is committed to upholding the highest standards of professionalism and accountability. We take this matter seriously and will take appropriate action to ensure that such lapses do not recur in the future." He goes on to say, "Additional safeguards have been put in place to ensure depositions are not missed going forward."

According to a high-ranking official within the agency who wished to remain anonymous, Nienhuis' assertion that missed depositions are "not systemic" is not accurate. The source says, "This has been a problem for a long time. Deputies have been warned over and over to stop missing depositions." He goes on to say, "He's [Nienhuis] my boss but I can say that confidence in his leadership is fading."

Nienhuis has dealt with staunch criticism over his lack of transparency, and many say today's statement proves once again that he will conceal unflattering news unless someone provides tips to media outlets. Since there are no other independent media outlets in Hernando County and Tampa Bay media coverage is inadequate, R News is left reporting nearly all controversial developments.

Nienhuis is expected to silence radio traffic in the coming days by implementing a new 13-million-dollar encrypted radio system that blocks the public from monitoring activity on scanners. Additionally, Nienhuis vehemently opposes the use of body-worn cameras (BWCs), claiming "it's not in his budget, and would rather have more deputies." Those claims have been debunked numerous times through estimates provided by BWC experts.

Nienhuis claims to be completely transparent with the community but hasn't presented a single statement or contacted the media to discuss his $400 million Master Plan to rebuild the entire Sheriff's Office and Detention Center. Negotiations between Nienhuis and the Board of County Commissioners have been ongoing for a year and the citizens are expected to see a tax increase to pay for the nearly half-billion-dollar investment.

When citizens attempt to voice their concerns on the agency's Facebook page, Nienhuis often orders their comments removed or completely bans the critic. There are over 300 citizens banned as of our last inquiry.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE:

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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