David Feger said the allegations made against him were false — and they were made by a dishonest witness who might have had ulterior motives.
He has an acquittal to prove it.
Nonetheless, after being charged with a DUI, the damage was done. He knew his job was no longer safe, but he walked away earlier this month with a settlement and a sense of relief.
An 11-year veteran of law enforcement, Feger no longer wears a deputy uniform. He won't miss it, he said. He plans to finish college and start over.
He's also quit drinking.
"I was a social drinker before, but I don't touch it at all now," said Feger.
There will be no more midnight shifts, violence, unruly suspects or unusual sleeping patterns.
Feger's employment at the Hernando County Sheriff's Office started unraveling the morning of April 24, 2011.
He left Bar Envy at 11060 Spring Hill Drive after consuming four drinks in five hours, he said.
He was offered a ride a few times, but declined.
A woman at the bar — Stacey Horvath — was someone he had arrested during a domestic incident in January 2005.
Feger, 36, said he was the back-up deputy for that call, but he was the one who slapped the handcuffs on Horvath.
The two didn't mingle while they were at the bar, but spoke briefly outside, he said.
As Feger was driving home, both Horvath and her friend followed him to his house — while on the phone with a 911 operator. Horvath had called to report a drunk driver and said she observed him swerving off the road.
Horvath, whose father is a detective at the sheriff's office, also said she saw Feger "fall on his face" after he got out of his vehicle.
On the 911 recording, Feger could be heard wishing Horvath and his friend a happy Easter. He also complimented them by telling them they were "hot." He insisted he was sober that morning.
"The whole thing was preposterous," he said of Horvath's claims.
He said he didn't fall on his face and his vehicle never left the road. He also said allegations that he was slurring his words while talking to Horvath outside the bar also were false.
Feger was suspended from the sheriff's office while his criminal and internal investigations were being handled.
He stood trial in October 2011 and was acquitted. His attorney cross-examined Horvath, who admitted she had lied to the sheriff's office during her interview.
Feger's attorney criticized the state attorney's office for prosecuting his client.
The testimony from the trial was leaned on heavily by Sgt. Kathleen Reid, the internal affairs investigator for the sheriff's office.
She sustained allegations of conduct unbecoming and dishonesty.
Feger said he never was flippant with the deputy and sergeant who investigated him and he always told the truth.
"That was the hardest part," he said. "I was called a liar. I am not that."
He said he doesn't have anything to say to Horvath, but he doesn't maintain any bitterness. If he ran into her, he wouldn't initiate a conversation. If she apologized, he'd accept it and move on, he said.
Feger's DUI allegation wasn't the first time he had been suspected of abusing alcohol.
He was placed on leave and ordered to take a drug test after he showed up for work smelling of liquor one morning in December 2008. He underwent treatment and his employment was retained.
Feger said he made a mistake, owned up to it and accepted his punishment.
He said being in law enforcement is a "whole different way of life." Police officers and deputies become jaded and look at people differently, he said. He is ready for a new outlook. He's putting a positive spin on his circumstances, but part of him still wishes he could have had the opportunity to leave the sheriff's office more gracefully.
"I don't believe the investigation was impartial," he said. "I think the decision to (fire me) was made right after it started, but I don't think it was personal."
He said he always approached his job the correct way. During his 10 years at the sheriff's office, he worked as a patrol deputy, a property crimes detective and then back to patrol.
Before being hired in Hernando, he spent a year as an officer with the Zephyrhills Police Department.
His evaluations were mostly above standard. He received numerous commendations from his supervisors, most of them coming between 2004 and 2009.
In 2005, he was awarded Emergency Responder of the Year by the Dawn Center, a local domestic violence and sex abuse shelter.
The part Feger enjoyed the most about the job was helping others feel safer.
"I was proud whenever I was approached by people after (a call) who said 'thank you for making a difference,'" he said. "I learned from when I started that you always treat people the way you want to be treated."