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9 workers leave Pasco Sheriff's Office after internal investigations

Michael Miller called in with big news: His wife was having a baby. He was taking her to the hospital, so he wouldn't make it to work that day at the Pasco County Sheriff's Office dispatch center.

He called in again before his next shift a few days later. His son, Darian Ray, had arrived, Miller told his boss. He shared the usual newborn stats: length, weight, eye color, hair color. And he said he was bringing his wife and child home from Mease Countryside Hospital, so he wouldn't make it to work that day, either.

The Sheriff's Office later determined it was all a lie.

Miller "fabricated the birth of a child" as an excuse to call in sick, according to an internal affairs report on the July 2009 incident. The matter "causes substantial doubt concerning his honesty," the report said.

Miller, a 22-year-old communications officer who resigned in November, is one of nine Sheriff's Office employees to lose their jobs since last summer while under investigation for misconduct, according to reports recently obtained by the Pasco Times.

One officer is accused of taking his patrol car on a joyride that ended in a wipeout.

Another officer who resigned over a worker's compensation claim left evidence in his car.

Two others are accused of providing false information to authorities that led to their resignations — and criminal charges.

Elizabeth C. Haigh, 26, a former child protective investigator, was arrested last month on a felony charge of welfare fraud. Authorities say she submitted pay stubs showing less than half of her actual pay in order to qualify for food stamp benefits, cash assistance and Medicaid services.

Marissa Seltman, 23, a former communications officer, is accused of entering a false complaint into the system alleging a man — her friend's ex-husband — had violated a domestic violence injunction. The State Attorney's Office charged her in November with filing a false police report, a misdemeanor.

Efforts to reach both women for this story were unsuccessful. But Seltman told a sheriff's detective that she was just trying to help. Her friend's child had made some comments suggesting the ex-husband was abusive toward his new wife, Seltman said, so she just wanted a deputy to conduct a welfare check.

"She advised that she did not intend for the complaint to be written up as a violation of a domestic violence injunction and (had) no intentions of anyone getting into trouble," an internal affairs report said.

Officers who followed up on the complaint determined it was bogus. The ex-husband was not arrested.

• • •

Four witnesses saw the sheriff's patrol car peeling down Oconee Boulevard in Moon Lake with its emergency lights flashing but no sirens. Then, at 11 p.m. Sept. 8, the car skidded across the road near Lake Drive and crashed into the woods.

Authorities say the driver was Deputy Michael Bierman, 25. He was wearing a red polo shirt and khaki shorts. He was off duty and not responding to a call, the Sheriff's Office said.

Bierman told the Florida Highway Patrol that he swerved to avoid a deer. The witnesses saw no deer.

The Sheriff's Office launched an internal affairs investigation into several issues: damaging a patrol car in an avoidable crash, failing to follow policy in the use of an emergency vehicle, and failing to wear appropriate clothing and carry his gun while operating his patrol car.

Bierman resigned two days after the accident. He did not return a call for this story.

• • •

Deputy Steven Sickles was locked in a worker's compensation dispute with the Sheriff's Office. He said he hurt his neck in January 2006 as he took a suspect into custody. The Sheriff's Office maintained his soreness was part of a 1999 injury for which he had already received worker's comp.

The Sheriff's Office alleged Sickles made false statements as he applied for the second round of benefits. He was fired July 31, although he later reached a settlement with the Sheriff's Office that allowed him to resign and receive nearly $500 in unused vacation and sick leave.

Another deputy conducted an inventory of Sickles' patrol car on Aug. 4 and discovered a digital camera. Pictures on the camera had been taken at two different crime scenes more than a year before, but were never entered into evidence, according to an internal affairs report.

The first set of pictures showed the blood and broken furniture from a February 2008 dispute between a live-in couple. The girlfriend was arrested on a charge of aggravated battery, but prosecutors later dropped the charge because the boyfriend refused to cooperate.

The second set of pictures showed a woman's injuries from an April 2008 altercation with a roommate who was moving out. Sickles was unable to reach the roommate, so there was no arrest.

Upon the rediscovery of the photos, they were put on a CD and filed into evidence. Sickles could not be reached for comment.

• • •

About a month after Michael Miller announced the birth of a son who didn't exist, internal affairs launched a formal inquiry.

Miller, who could not be reached for this story, offered a couple of explanations in the detective's report.

He had only said his wife was "possibly" giving birth to a child. "But things went sour and we lost it."

In another interview, he said his wife had been only 5 1/2 months pregnant when she went to the hospital and miscarried.

In yet another interview, he said his wife had been pregnant with twins but lost one of them in July. He attributed the condition to "blighted ovum."

"In summary," the report states, "Officer Miller admitted that he fabricated the birth of a child to maintain confidentiality with respect to his wife's miscarriage."

But the report contains one last note:

The detective talked to Miller's wife, Michelle. She said she "was never" pregnant.

Times staff writer Erin Sullivan and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Bridget Hall Grumet can be reached at bgrumet@sptimes.com.

9 workers leave Pasco Sheriff's Office after internal investigations 03/06/10 [Last modified: Saturday, March 6, 2010 2:10pm]

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