BROOKSVILLE — A former Wisconsin sheriff's deputy accused of flashing a badge in a Taco Bell parking lot earlier this year will avoid jail time.
Ryan Romano, 31, pleaded no contest Tuesday to a charge of impersonating a law enforcement officer. Circuit Judge Daniel B. Merritt Jr. withheld adjudication and gave Romano a year of probation. Merritt also ordered Romano to undergo a mental health evaluation.
"I think it's appropriate for someone with no criminal record," defense attorney Peyton Hyslop said Wednesday.
Prosecutors had asked Merritt to find Romano guilty and sentence him to six months in jail, followed by two years of probation. The third-degree felony is punishable by up to five years in prison.
According to the Hernando Sheriff's Office, Romano was driving a Chevrolet Silverado on Feb. 9 when he got angry at another motorist who was trying to turn around in the parking lot of the restaurant at 11140 Spring Hill Drive. Romano, who had a male passenger with him, maneuvered his truck to block the other driver's path, got out and identified himself as a law enforcement officer. He showed a badge and ordered the occupants out of the vehicle.
Suspicious of Romano, they refused. When Romano threatened to arrest them, a man in the other vehicle said he was going to call 911. Romano got back in his truck and drove away.
Romano's passenger told deputies later that Romano had gotten into an argument with another motorist at Taco Bell and flashed a deputy's badge. Romano admitted that he asked for the driver's identification, but denied that he identified himself as an officer. He told authorities he had retired from his job as a deputy with the Kenosha County Sheriff's Department in Wisconsin on Dec. 31.
Investigators found a badge in the truck at the time of his arrest, Hyslop said.
A spokesman for the Kenosha Sheriff's Department told the Times after Romano's arrest that he started with the department in 2007, was moved from road patrol to administrative duty last August, and then resigned effective Dec. 15. The spokesman declined to comment on the circumstances of the reassignment and resignation.
Merritt noted before the sentencing that reports of Romano threatening law enforcement officers about the time of his departure from Kenosha turned out to be unfounded.
Romano paid $723 in fines and court costs. He was visiting Spring Hill at the time of his arrest and plans to return to Wisconsin, Hyslop said.