Sunday, April 22, 2018
News Roundup

New Port Richey supervisor resigns after late-night misadventure

NEW PORT RICHEY — Anthony Koutsonikas was the on-call employee at the city's public works department when he got a 2:30 a.m. phone call from his boss, Christopher Sutherlin.

Sutherlin wanted a ride. Koutsonikas found him outside a bowling alley. He said Sutherlin's breath smelled of alcohol.

"The only reason I went is because I didn't want to disobey my boss and then have problems at work," Koutsonikas wrote in his account of that July 24 night.

He urged Sutherlin to get in his city truck, but Sutherlin drove off in his own city-issued truck, Koutsonikas wrote. Koutsonikas followed, and when Sutherlin briefly stopped at another employee's house, Koutsonikas took the wheel, he wrote.

Over the next few hours, according to city documents, Koutsonikas chauffeured his inebriated boss while Sutherlin called other employees, urging them to call in sick the next day so they could all go fishing. Sutherlin ended up at another worker's home at 4 a.m., banging on the door, inviting him out, reports said.

"Chris Sutherlin was holding a beer can and stumbling in my yard, yelling for me to get in the city's truck. He told me that I needed to call in sick so that I could go out drinking with them," public works employee James Ralston wrote in his report to the city.

Sutherlin, 34, a street and right of way/stormwater section leader in public works, resigned last month amid the quiet controversy over that night. New Port Richey's elected officials hadn't heard anything about the incident until contacted by the Times.

"We are a policy board so we aren't generally involved in personnel issues," Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe told the Times. "But I guess if you are calling me I should be put in the loop."

Sutherlin did not respond to messages left through the city for comment on this story. Because he is a former law enforcement officer, his phone number and address are exempt from public records.

He served less than a year as a New Port Richey police officer before resigning in November 2008, after authorities said he fled the scene of a crash in which he'd been driving drunk. Tests showed his blood-alcohol level was nearly twice the level at which Florida law presumes impairment. According to court records, Sutherlin was convicted of DUI and given a year of probation, plus ordered to pay restitution, perform community service, give up his license for six months and avoid alcohol.

Within weeks of resigning from the police force, Sutherlin landed a job at the city's public works department, where he worked as a supervisor until the July 24 incident. He was placed on administrative leave within days.

The city collected written statements from employees and other witnesses to Sutherlin's behavior that night.

James Bellino, who praised Sutherlin as a "caring supervisor" who "takes care and helps his crew out," was the first public works employee to get a knock on his door. He wrote that "there were no signs of alcohol on (Sutherlin's) breath at all or no sign of being under the influence of anything."

Other witnesses gave a different account, though, describing Sutherlin as smelling of alcohol or having beer.

Ralston's girlfriend, Britni Egyed, wrote that she yelled at Sutherlin to leave as he tried to push his way into their home at 4 a.m.

Sutherlin's actions were "immature, especially for a man in his thirties in a supervisory role," Egyed wrote.

"I shouldn't have to feel unsafe in my house, and I shouldn't have to worry about a supervisor from my boyfriend's work showing up and waking me up," she added.

In a memo advising Sutherlin of an Aug. 1 pre-disciplinary hearing, assistant public works director Robert Rivera also wrote that "numerous beer cans were found in the bed of the city truck assigned to you."

Sutherlin resigned two days after the hearing.

Acting City Manager Doug Haag declined to comment this week on the incident, saying he does not discuss personnel issues. After a City Council meeting Monday evening, longtime public works director Sherman Applegate said he was on medical leave during the investigation, and did not attend Sutherlin's Aug. 1 hearing because he did not have a prior role.

Applegate declined to comment on Sutherlin's resignation, saying only, "He was an excellent employee."

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