BROOKSVILLE - Sheriff Al Nienhuis fired a patrol deputy Monday for immoral conduct and not telling the truth, after he drove a woman home from an accident on Thursday, according to the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.
Deputy William Charles Martinez, 45, was arrested on charges of false imprisonment and battery after a sexual incident with a woman involved in a traffic crash on Thursday, according to the sheriff's office.
Martinez was assisting the Florida Highway Patrol with a single-vehicle accident around 2 a.m. near Deltona Boulevard and Founder Road in Spring Hill, the sheriff's office said.
"It is my understanding she asked Deputy Martinez for a ride," Nienhuis said Tuesday. "It's not that uncommon, obviously leaving somebody at 3 o'clock in the morning on the side of the road is not a good thing."
The woman's vehicle was inoperable after the accident.
Martinez bypassed the woman's house, Nienhuis said, and drove a few blocks away, which is where the "inappropriate contact" took place.
Nienhuis, who refused to elaborate further on the encounter, said Martinez then took the woman home.
The following day, the woman filed a complaint with the sheriff's office and provided evidence, Nienhuis said. An expedited DNA test with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed a match with Martinez, Nienhuis said.
"When Deputy Martinez was questioned he denied anything remotely inappropriate, and even after (being) told there was some evidence, he maintained his story and innocence of being involved in any inappropriate contact," Nienhuis said.
After the lab test confirmed Martinez's involvement, he was terminated and a warrant was issued. The false imprisonment charge stems from Martinez driving past the woman's house, and her inability to remove herself from the situation, Nienhuis said.
Martinez was arrested about 6:30 p.m. Monday, and was released on $2,500 bail. His arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 11.
In a press conference, Nienhuis said Martinez was not charged with sexual battery because the incident did not meet the statutory requirements. The State Attorney's Office is reviewing the charges, Nienhuis said.
Records show Martinez was earning $58,491.68 a year as a deputy sheriff.
Martinez's firing is the latest incident involving a deputy with the Hernando sheriff's office.
Last week, a detention deputy was fired after allegedly burning a toddler in his care with a hair dryer. In late December, Sgt. Joseph Reid and Deputy Michael Glatfelter resigned after two criminal investigations found they stole money from separate accounts, including one established for the widow of a captain killed in the line of duty.
Nienhuis said the recent problems with law enforcement officers were unrelated, and just happened to be coming out around the same time.
"There should be no doubt in the public's mind that we are not going to sugar coat, cover up or ignore an issue," Nienhuis said. "We're going to attack it head-on and we're going to deal with it.
"One incident of violating that trust can hurt everything we do from this point forward to a certain extent," Nienhuis continued. "We take that very seriously and the public needs to understand that if they are a victim of a legitimate wrongdoing by a law enforcement officer they need to let someone know."
Martinez has worked for the sheriff's office since 1992, when he was hired as a patrol deputy.
He served on the sheriff's office SWAT team in the 1990s, and joined the K-9 unit in 1998.
He was promoted to K-9 coordinator in 2006, and demoted in 2011 after an investigation found he wasn't properly completing the administrative duties expected of him.
According to Internal Affairs Investigator Sgt. Kathleen Reid, Martinez was "more concerned with finding the bad guy or a missing child," than he was completing paperwork.
Investigators also found Martinez signed time cards for his subordinates, improperly logged evidence and did not tell the truth while being investigated by his agency.
"Your decision to depart from the truth and engage in a cascading series of misstatements is intolerable and totally unacceptable," Col. Mike Maurer wrote at the time.
Martinez was investigated for using his law enforcement position to avoid a traffic summons in 2010, when he was clocked driving 100 mph on the interstate in Georgia in an agency vehicle, and failed to report it to the department. Martinez, who was on his way to K-9 school in Nashville, was suspended for three days without pay and put on 30 days probation.
In 2012, Martinez sued the Hernando County Sheriff's Office for unpaid overtime compensation relating to his after-hours care of two K-9 dogs. In 2013, District Judge James Whittemore awarded Martinez $1,075.44 in wages and $10,900.50 in attorney's fees.
In annual reviews, Martinez consistently met or exceeded standards and was praised for his performance.
His most recent review praised Martinez for teaming up with other patrol squad deputies to pursue wanted subjects. Martinez could be counted on as a supervisor, and acted as a mentor to younger officers, the report stated.
Martinez was named deputy of the year in 2002, and has received the medal of valor.
Among the many accolades include saving two lost hikers in the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area, according to a letter from the Florida Fish and Wildlife conservation commission.