Pasco deputy will not be disciplined for how he handled arrest of New Port Richey mayor's wife

NEW PORT RICHEY — The complaints began on 911 tape, the voice of Mayor Scott McPherson talking from the back of a taxi:

His wife, Kimberly, had been sexually assaulted, he said. A lying Pasco deputy had manhandled and arrested her outside a Trinity bar and grill. Mr. McPherson pledged he would expose the false reports, free his wife and see the deputy fired from duty.

But after nearly three months, an internal investigation by four detectives and about a dozen witnesses concluded this:

Mr. McPherson was wrong.

Released Tuesday, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office investigation — which cost $18,000 in staff time and other expenses — declares McPherson's complaints of rudeness, excessive force and falsified police reports as unfounded. The deputy who charged Mrs. McPherson with domestic battery, and whom Mr. McPherson labeled a danger to society, will not be disciplined.

Some of the claims made in the early hours after Mrs. McPherson's arrest conflicted with other witnesses, investigators wrote. Others were recanted by the McPhersons themselves.

But each interview adds more detail to the story of how one night for the mayor went so horribly wrong.

• • •

On July 25, a Sunday afternoon, the McPhersons settled in for lunch and a drink at Fitzgerald's Irish Tavern in downtown New Port Richey.

The McPhersons — Scott, 45, and Kimberly, 44, married since they were teenagers — ordered cocktails and shots, bartender Mark Middleton told investigators. He joined the McPhersons as they continued on to the Little Corona's Cigar Lounge, where they met with Middleton's girlfriend, Laurel Rochovansky, and ordered a few beers. The party of four then drove to dinner at a Bonefish Grill, where McPherson ordered shots of Patron tequila.

Middleton told investigators he and Mr. McPherson were "toasting" with tequila, and that the "wheels kind of came off of it for me" sometime after the first shot. Christian Deroever, a Bonefish Grill bartender, told investigators he cut the party off because they had too much to drink.

The group moved onto Grille 54 in Trinity, where they found a high-top at the outside patio, Rochovansky said. The men went inside, with Middleton stepping to the bar to order more shots.

• • •

Deputy Michael Shoup and his trainee, deputy Jeanie Spicuglia, were driving to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office headquarters at the end of their night shift when Shoup got a text message. Lindsey Morrison, a friend he had met six years ago when they both worked at Chili's, told him to stop by Grille 54 to say hello.

Shoup had made a habit of checking in at the restaurant ever since a man had urinated into the sushi bar, he told investigators, and Sundays were "theme nights," the busiest night of the week. Spicuglia waited in the cruiser as Shoup walked to the patio, telling friends how happy he was to get off work in time.

Mr. McPherson stepped outside around the same time, Rochovansky said. He was upset because the restaurant's manager had bumped into him and didn't apologize. McPherson walked to Shoup, standing nearby, and told him he wanted to file a criminal report.

From here, just after midnight, the encounter gets a little fuzzy. Shoup said McPherson repeatedly slurred his request, then insulted him for not doing his job. McPherson said Shoup erupted at him, charged at his group and began cursing.

One witness called what happened next between the deputy and the mayor a "little scream fest." Mrs. McPherson stepped between the men to tell her husband to "knock it off," Rochovansky said, pushing his face away from the deputy, a move she would later call "a little swat on the cheek."

Shoup would call it domestic battery — a charge prosecutors would drop the next month — and arrested Mrs. McPherson. Mr. McPherson said the way the deputy did it — touching her breast, and handcuffing her so her dress was falling off —constituted sexual assault. Mrs. McPherson would later say the touching "could have just been accidental."

• • •

Middleton said Mr. McPherson's outbursts after the arrest — claiming he would get the men fired due to his friendship with Sheriff Bob White and that the deputies were treating his wife "like a Moon Lake b----" — were accurately remembered by the deputies. "He said a lot of dumb things ... because he was drunk," Middleton told investigators.

But at least one witness questioned whether Shoup had acted responsibly — Spicuglia, his trainee. She told investigators he was "puffed out," that he sometimes "lets his anger get the better of him," and that he responded to McPherson's rudeness by saying, "You don't f---ing tell me to shut up."

"It was almost like a p------ match going on between these guys," she said.

Shoup, a six-year patrol deputy, denied the claim, saying Spicuglia was in the cruiser or behind him during the argument and might have misunderstood what she heard amid the bar noise.

Shoup has received high marks on his reviews but was cited for one violation within the last two years, disciplinary records show. He was suspended for a day after misreading an arrest order and arresting the wrong person.

In recorded collect calls made by Mrs. McPherson during her short stay at the Land O'Lakes Jail, she tells her husband, "Granted, you were drunk, and you were being messy, and I was trying to prevent you from saying something that you shouldn't say that would get you in trouble."

But Mr. McPherson wasn't so quick to shuffle blame. He called the deputy's report "a g--d--- joke," adding that "maybe he wasn't getting girls, this deputy, to pay attention to him, so he wanted to grab your boobs? I don't know."

Mr. McPherson did not respond to messages left with him Tuesday.

"There is going to be hell to pay," he told his wife as she sat in jail. "This guy's head is going to roll."

Contact Drew Harwell at dharwell@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6244.

Pasco deputy will not be disciplined for how he handled arrest of New Port Richey mayor's wife 10/19/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 19, 2010 11:29pm]

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