NEW PORT RICHEY — A week before the election, Democrat Kim Bogart went on the offensive in his campaign to unseat Republican Sheriff Chris Nocco, alleging that sluggish detectives failed to arrest a rape suspect who then went on to strike again.
"There's no excuse for delaying the arrest," Bogart said during a press conference Wednesday morning. "It's putting politics before the safety of citizens in Pasco County."
On Dec. 11, 2011, deputies say Tommy Garcia, 38, picked up a woman on U.S. 19, drove her to a section of woods near Hudson and raped her at gunpoint. Reports say the woman reported the rape the same day. She gave a description of the suspect and his vehicle along with a partial tag number.
On Jan. 9, she identified him from a photo pack, reports state. On Jan. 26, detectives tracked the information to Garcia's house but he wasn't there.
Bogart contends the detectives were negligent because they didn't return to the house or make an arrest.
On Feb. 15, Garcia raped another woman, the department reported. He was arrested the next day. Afterward two more women came forward saying Garcia had raped them earlier in December.
Bogart says the Feb. 15 rape could have been prevented had detectives persisted. He said there is no excuse other than negligence for delaying the arrest.
Sgt. Jeff Peake, who heads one of the Sheriff's Office's major crimes units and supervises the first detective on the case, took issue with Bogart. He said there wasn't enough evidence to arrest Garcia on Jan. 26 when the detective went to his house.
"It was important to know the suspect," Peake said. "It was important to corroborate with the victims."
Nocco called Bogart's claims "desperate political attacks."
Bogart, who has been campaigning under the slogan "Public Safety … Not Politics," is a former Pasco sheriff's captain who ran unsuccessfully for sheriff four years ago. He is a law enforcement consultant. Much of his platform centers around the department gaining accreditation — a system of internal checks and balances for law enforcement agencies.
Bogart said he called the press conference to provide specific examples of "how Chris Nocco's inexperience will hurt public safety." Bogart said if he were sheriff, he would raise the agency's standard of accountability.
He also mentioned a case from Aug. 24 in which two men forced their way into a home in the Seven Springs area and raped a woman twice.
He noted that the Sheriff's Office reported the incident only after the Times inquired about it. The Sheriff's Office answered by saying deputies had no reason to believe the public was in danger. One of the suspects was still at large.
Sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll said the department did not release the information because it did not want to compromise the investigation. He said he could not release the address of the rape because of laws that protect the privacy of rape victims.
Bogart also criticized Nocco for his handling of an investigation of a civil deputy who had been accused of sexual battery on a woman.
In the report, the woman says deputy Kevin Ware left her repeated voice mails, dropped by her house unexpectedly and on Aug. 8 made an unwanted sexual advance on her.
The detective investigating the case wrote in the report that "there was enough information to support an arrest and prosecution of the suspect," but the State Attorney's office disagreed and chose not to file the case.
Sheriff's Office officials said arresting Ware was up to the State Attorney's office, common practice in investigations.
Ware resigned on Oct. 2.
"Why isn't this resolved?" Bogart wondered aloud in the press conference. "Here we are at the end of October. There's no more evidence to be had."
Alex Orlando can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.