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Port Richey officer cleared in gag-letter incident

PORT RICHEY — One month after being fired on accusations that he sent a gag letter to city employees, patrol Officer Bill Sager has been cleared of all wrongdoing.

The results of an investigation, which began two weeks after Sager was fired, said "it has not been determined who the author of the letter is or its origin."

Sager, 52, who has denied sending the letter, said he was upset that city officials fired him before investigating the matter. He said the situation "didn't have to happen."

"As a chief, I was always careful to honor people's rights," said Sager, who went from police chief to patrol officer last year. "After 23 years of trying to do a good job and do things the right way, I wasn't given that same opportunity."

After protesting his termination, Sager was reinstated Monday and placed on paid leave while police investigated.

City Manager Richard Reade defended the city's decision to fire Sager first and investigate later, saying "this wasn't a hasty decision. We followed personnel policy to the letter."

The gag letter jokingly suggests new office policies such as "Chubby people get 5 minutes for lunch, because that's all the time needed to drink a Slim Fast." At the bottom is Reade's name, as if he signed the memo.

The investigation couldn't determine who really sent it. But one fact points away from Sager: the ZIP code on the return address.

The return address on the envelope was a post office box that Sager had opened in May to allow members of the police union to correspond outside City Hall. But whenever Sager used that address, he used the correct ZIP code, 34673.

Whoever sent the gag letter to City Hall used a different ZIP code, 34668.

"It seems apparent that whoever sent the letter was unaware of the proper ZIP code," wrote the investigator, Detective James Ruland.

Ruland also wrote that "there were several occasions where he (Sager) used the P.O. Box as a return address for (police union) correspondence and at no time was the ZIP code 34668 used."

Ruland interviewed City Council members and police officers present at a meeting where Sager announced he had created the post office box. No one had proof that Sager sent the letter.

Sager received back pay for his weeks off the force when he was reinstated Monday. He remains on medical leave from an injury stemming from a scuffle with a suspect last year.

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at cspencer@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

Port Richey officer cleared in gag-letter incident 10/03/08 [Last modified: Sunday, October 5, 2008 10:56am]
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