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State Attorney's Office investigates Port Richey city manager's treatment by police

NEW PORT RICHEY — The State Attorney's Office on Tuesday opened an investigation into the incident involving Port Richey's city manager, who was found late on July 13, asleep at the wheel of his SUV, apparently smelling of alcohol.

New Port Richey interim police Chief Kim Bogart said a lieutenant first "inquired with the State Attorney's Office about how to proceed" in the case Saturday. On Tuesday, he said, the attorney's office investigator Doug Barry came to the Police Department to collect all documents related to the case, including a welfare check report and a video taken from a Port Richey police car's dashboard camera.

Just before midnight July 13, New Port Richey police Cpl. William Phillips noted in his report that he recognized the sleeping man as Tom O'Neill, former New Port Richey city manager. Phillips requested the Florida Highway Patrol and the Pasco Sheriff's Office to respond "to avoid the appearance or potential conflict of interest," he wrote in the report. Emergency dispatch sent an officer from Port Richey — where O'Neill is now city manager.

Bogart said he is "troubled" that he didn't hear word of the traffic stop until the following Monday. Sometime later — he doesn't remember exactly when — he found out Port Richey police Chief Dave Brown was woken that night at his home with a phone call from a Port Richey officer at the scene on Avery Road and asked to respond.

Brown said he has been friends with O'Neill since January 2012, when O'Neill came to work for the city.

Brown would not speak in person Tuesday afternoon with a Tampa Bay Times reporter, instead sending Lt. Don Young to answer questions because he has been "saturated" with media requests.

At the scene, Young contends, Brown told officers his friend takes medication and said nothing else. "The chief tells me he did not exert any influence on New Port Richey officers," Young said, "and I believe him."

O'Neill was taken in an ambulance to Northbay Hospital, suspected to be suffering a stroke, a New Port Richey police report states. A Port Richey officer drove O'Neill's SUV to his home and locked it.

Young said he has known officers to drive people's cars to their homes and has done it himself before, but "probably not on a daily basis."

Between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. July 14, Brown later said in a phone interview, he drove to the hospital to pick up O'Neill.

"He had no other way of getting home," Brown said. "I was helping a friend."

Bogart would not comment on how he took the news that Brown had a role in the incident.

Bogart said he and Brown met the afternoon of July 19, before Bogart had seen video of the traffic stop, and Brown gave him Port Richey's report of the incident. Aside from Bogart saying "something to the effect of 'I wish we weren't dealing with this,' " the incident wasn't discussed.

On Monday, O'Neill said he took the day off to meet with his doctor and would return to work Tuesday. He said he has no plans to resign.

He previously said he was suffering from a medical problem that night but did not elaborate. He declined to say anything more Monday.

Contact Alex Orlando at aorlando@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6247.

State Attorney's Office investigates Port Richey city manager's treatment by police 07/30/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 10:12am]
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