Saturday, Apr 19, 2014

Pasco sheriff's office to leave PHCC academy

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NEW PORT RICHEY - The Pasco County Sheriff's Office remains committed to leaving the law enforcement training program it has been a part of for decades.

The agency, along with the school district of Pasco County, continues to plan a separate academy, run by the sheriff's office and hosted by the school district.

Additionally, Pasco Sheriff's Office training staff members have been pulled from the program.

The separation means abandoning a program at Pasco-Hernando Community College the sheriff's office has worked with since at least 1974.

"We're very fortunate to be working with and supporting the school district getting the academy," Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said.

During a Dec. 3 school board meeting, the topic of the new academy was raised for informational purposes. It was revealed the academy will be housed at Marchman Technical Education Center in New Port Richey.

There are plans for meetings to take place in January to hash out additional plans. A proposal then will be brought forth for the school district to approve.

During that early December meeting, the board agreed unanimously to go forward in its pursuit to host the academy.

In November, Nocco acknowledged he and his agency had long-standing concerns regarding the hiring of some people used to teach law enforcement courses at PHCC.

Since then, two people were fired and the program's director announced her previously decided plans to retire.

James Nagy was one of the instructors with whom the sheriff's office had a concern. Nagy, who spent 23 years as a member of the sheriff's office, began working with the school in 1991.

He was the subject of multiple internal affairs investigations with the Pasco sheriff's office, according to personnel documents, and was fired from the Tarpon Springs Police Department after less than a year on the job.

Nagy and Don Ruminer, a PHCC law enforcement academy instructor since 2010, were fired at the end of November following the school's investigation into a sexual harassment claim. A student had been the target of Ruminer's harassment, the investigation concluded, which led to his dismissal. Nagy was fired because, school officials said, he did not cooperate with the investigation - though he had nothing to do with the harassment.

The academy's director, Nancy Bunch, was placed on probation for not taking action. Bunch, who has been with the institution since 2010, announced her previous plans to retire at the end of January. Officials have said the retirement is not related to the investigation or subsequent discipline.

Meanwhile, there also have been accusations that current deputies have had problems scheduling classroom time and using facilities at the PHCC East Campus in Dade City, where the Public Services program is based.

Pasco-Hernando officials deny any problems with facility use.

PHCC officials could not be reached to discuss the latest development between the county's school district and the sheriff's office. When asked about the possibility of parting ways with the sheriff's office in November, school spokesperson Lucy Miller was adamant the institution wanted the relationship to continue.

"We value our partnership with the Pasco sheriff's office and are hopeful that these current issues can be resolved," Miller said. "In fact, PHCC holds instructor certifications for 24 Pasco County Sheriff's Office deputies. About 32 percent of PHCC's Law Enforcement Academy instructors are officers employed by the PSO. Other qualified instructors are actively employed with the Hernando County Sheriff's Office and the Dade City, Zephyrhills, Port Richey and other police departments."

In an attempt to ensure concerns were properly vetted, PHCC President Katherine Johnson and the school created an ad hoc committee this year, which includes Dade City Police Chief Ray Velboom, Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis and others, to monitor hiring practices and retention.

Pasco-Hernando Community College, which serves the training needs of current and potential law enforcement members, is one of 41 State of Florida Criminal Justice Training Centers.

edaniels@tampatrib.com

(813) 371-1860

Twitter: @EDanielsTBO

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