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Judge increases bail for suspended New Port Richey police officer

BROOKSVILLE — Shackled and clad in an orange jail jumpsuit, New Port Richey police Officer John Michael Nohejl shuffled into a Hernando County courtroom Thursday hoping the judge would reduce his bail.

Circuit Judge Anthony Tatti did the opposite.

Tatti set Nohejl's bail at $171,500, an increase of $55,000 over the amount set at his first court appearance on Jan. 18. Nohejl, 35, has been in the Hernando County Detention Center since then.

Nohejl was pulled over in Spring Hill the day before and refused to provide identification or get out of his vehicle. He drove off and was stopped again a block away.

Deputies found a hydrocodone tablet on the driver-side floorboard. They also found a bag of 27 hydrocodone tablets on the side of the road, where he had tossed it during the short chase, according to a news release. Nohejl was arrested.

Authorities later searched his house and found bags, pipes, scales and a trace of cocaine. He is charged with trafficking in hydrocodone, tampering with evidence, fleeing to elude law enforcement, possession of two driver's licenses and two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia.

Early in Thursday's hearing, defense attorney Michael Kenny noted that Nohejl does not have a prior criminal history, so the $100,000 bail for the trafficking charge "is a bit high." Nohejl also has a young daughter, Kenny said.

The amount is consistent with bail guidelines, Tatti replied.

Nohejl is "a person who has ties to the community," Kenny said.

"How about a person who flees after being stopped by law enforcement?" Tatti countered.

At that point, Tatti asked Kenny why he kept referring to his client as "Officer Nohejl." Apparently, Nohejl's occupation was not listed on the probable cause affidavit Tatti had in front of him.

"So now you're telling me he's a police officer?" Tatti asked.

"That's correct, judge," Kenny said.

Tatti leaned back in his leather chair and took a sip from a mug.

Kenny said no one saw Nohejl throw the bag of pills from his vehicle, so law enforcement is "surmising" the drugs found on the road were his. There were other people living at the home where the cocaine and paraphernalia were found, he said.

Kenny then asked Tatti to set bail at $25,000 and order Nohejl to wear a GPS device.

"This arrest is coupled with an attempt to flee law enforcement, so in my mind the bond schedule doesn't address this situation, " Tatti said. "Nor frankly, does it address this activity being committed by a police officer."

With that, he hiked the bail.

Nohejl has a history of problems during his 13-year career. At the time of his arrest, he was on paid suspension. He was suspended without pay after the arrest.

Nohejl first saw trouble in the early years of his career, lying about sick days to go gambling and getting into at least four minor crashes in his patrol car, New Port Richey police Chief James Steffens told reporters after Nohejl's arrest.

Nohejl was placed on paid suspension on April 18, 2012, when Steffens launched an internal affairs investigation. It found Nohejl had been caught sleeping twice during the same shift, neglecting other duties. He then served 20 days of unpaid suspension. Another internal investigation was launched in November, but Steffens has not disclosed details, saying it remains active.

Steffens said Thursday he expects to release those findings in the next week or two.

"I think its speaks volumes that the judge saw fit to raise the bond," Steffens said. "I have complete confidence in the justice system carrying through and administering justice in the way it's designed to do."

A Hernando sheriff's spokeswoman said Nohejl is being held separately from the jail's general population because of his occupation.

Reach Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1431. On Twitter: @TMarreroTimes.

Judge increases bail for suspended New Port Richey police officer 01/31/13 [Last modified: Friday, February 1, 2013 7:45am]
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