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Sheriff may end PHCC partnership

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco had concerns regarding a local law enforcement academy long before the school fired two employees and a third abruptly retired this week.

Instructor Don Ruminer and security consultant James Nagy were fired by Pasco-Hernando Community College Monday after sexual harassment allegations were levied against Ruminer.

Nancy Bunch, director of public services, which oversees the law enforcement academy, retired Wednesday — two days after she was placed on probation. The college said her retirement, which takes effect in January, was planned.

“I just think there’s no longer a partnership, and there hasn’t been a partnership for a while, and the sheriff’s office, we’ve had concerns with the individuals they have hired to teach recruits out there,” Nocco said prior to the firings and the retirement. “When we talk about teaching the next generation of law enforcement, we just don’t feel comfortable with who they’ve hired.”

Bunch was placed on probation Monday for “inaction to investigate complaints that she became aware of,” said Lucy Miller, a PHCC spokeswoman.

Ruminer was fired Monday, the same day a complaint was filed alleging a female was the target of harassment by Ruminer over a period of time, according to Miller.

Nagy, a former instructor reassigned to conduct a safety survey of the school’s four campuses, was also fired for not cooperating with the harassment investigation, Miller said. Nagy, who began working as an instructor with the school in 1991, was not involved with the harassment.

Nagy, who spent 23 years as a member of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, was the subject of multiple internal affairs investigations during his time with the sheriff’s office, personnel documents show.

One of those investigations involved a 2006 incident in which he was accused of taking inappropriate photos of females attending a concert in Zephyrhills, documents show.

Nagy left the sheriff’s office and joined the Tarpon Springs Police Department in October 2011. He was fired in March 2012, according to documents from the Tarpon Springs Police Department.

“Mr. Nagy’s background in law enforcement, including his time as a leader within the Pasco Sheriff’s SWAT team, made him a good candidate for this position,” Miller said in an email.

Miller said despite the investigations, Nagy remains certified as a law enforcement officer and instructor through the Federal Department of Law Enforcement.

Nocco said he shared his concerns of hiring practices at PHCC with President Katherine Johnson. As a result, the school created an ad hoc committee, which includes Dade City Police Chief Ray Velboom, Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis and others, to monitor hiring practices and retention.

In a letter dated Aug. 27, 2013, Nocco pointed to a note from Johnson as an example of how the relationship had deteriorated.

Johnson wrote: “My desire to inform you and Sheriff Nienhuis of this committee creation was not to seek your approval or confirmation of its membership. The email was, as I indicated, a professional courtesy to keep both you and Sheriff Nienhuis informed of the direction the college is taking.”

The frayed relationship appears to be creating a new option in the sheriff’s office training methods.

In the future, recruits may receive training at schools in the Pasco County school district.

Sheriff’s office officials are in the early stages of exploring that option and abandoning the <URL destination="http://tbo.com/pasco-county/pig-award-a-badge-of-honor-at-police-academy-645414">program at Pasco-Hernando Community College.

</URL>“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.

“Our training depends on the expertise of these law enforcement officers and adjunct instructors who share real world experiences with our cadets,” Miller said.

The Hernando County sheriff also expressed concerns about hiring practices at the academy.

“Sheriff Nocco and I share many of the same concerns about recent and past events at the PHCC Police Academy,” Nienhuis said. “I have, on more than one occasion, shared those topics with Dr. Johnson. She has listened to my concerns and assures me she is looking into each one and is working on a solution. I have not yet decided what, if any, changes I will make regarding our association with PHCC.”

Nocco said there have also been problems with current deputies 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 issues with facility use.

Still, Nocco said it’s another reason it may be time to move forward — separately.

“We’ve grown as a law enforcement agency and the needs of a large law enforcement agency are much bigger than PHCC can provide us,” Nocco said. “We’re always going to be, in their eyes, second fiddle to their academy, that’s detrimental to our members. I hold the training to our members paramount in everything we do.

“I think going forward, we’ve hit that point where we’re going to wish PHCC all the best,” he said. “We just think the time has come where we need to expand; we need to move out on our own.”

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