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Arrest may bring lawsuit

Tension and rivalry between cops and firefighters isn't new, but wrongful arrest lawsuits between the two camps don't happen often.

Now, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Chief Bill Nesmith intends to sue Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats. Nesmith alleges his March arrest following an argument with his wife was unjustified.

Nesmith, fire chief since 1996, referred questions to his attorney, John Trevena.

The Pinellas Sheriff's Office normally doesn't comment on potential lawsuits, but news Friday of the wrongful arrest claim in the Nesmith case drew sharp words.

"I think sometimes it's better to take the action that we did," Coats said, "rather than investigating injured or dead parties."

Deputies went to Nesmith's Indian Rocks Beach condo on March 1 after a domestic disturbance call. According to Nesmith's wife, he had accused her of "whoring around" and threatened to shoot her and himself.

"She's whacked," Nesmith said, according to an incident report. "I'm the Hillsborough County fire chief, for crying out loud."

A licensed semiautomatic pistol was found in Nesmith's county-issued vehicle. He was suspended for two days for violating county rules that prohibit employees from having firearms at work.

But prosecutors didn't charge Nesmith with aggravated domestic assault, saying he didn't have a weapon on him or in the condo.

In the intent-to-sue letter, Trevena charged that a SWAT team was sent to the condo.

Sheriff's Sgt. Jim Bordner said there was no SWAT team.

"He has a different agenda than we do," Bordner said, "and it's not always the truth."

Times staff writer Janet Zink contributed to this report. Will Van Sant can be reached at vansant@sptimes.com or 727-445-4166.

Arrest may bring lawsuit 08/01/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 6, 2008 8:44am]
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