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Anonymous letter accuses Zephyrhills police captain of covering up old scandal

ZEPHYRHILLS — An anonymous person sent packets of information to city officials last week alleging wrong-doing by Capt. Jeff McDougal of the Zephyrhills Police Department.

The person — who signed a letter "concerned citizen" — says McDougal violated the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's moral character code.

"To whom it may concern,

I'm writing this letter to inform the City of Zephyrhills officials of some disturbing information concerning an employee in the Police department. This individual is Jeffrey D. McDougal. Recent events within the Police department have caused several individuals to question the integrity of Mr. McDougal."

The letter continues for three pages of the 17-page packet, which includes court and legal documents.

The event mentioned was not recent.

It began 18 years ago.

But the incident — and an alleged cover-up — are causing a bit of a stir at City Hall and the Police Department.

• • •

In 1992, McDougal and his wife lived next to Royce and Janet Mitchell in Dade City. According to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office and court documents, McDougal asked the Mitchells for an easement on their property to build a driveway. The Mitchells signed a document for the easement. McDougal, then working as a police officer for St. Leo, took the document to Wade Thomas, who notarized it even though he was not present when the Mitchells signed it. Then, according to reports, McDougal filed the document into the Pasco County court system in May 1992.

When the Mitchells found out the document was notarized and filed without their say-so, they called the Sheriff's Office, which investigated in February 1993.

McDougal promptly filed a quitclaim document in the court system to relinquish the easement.

In June 1993, Thomas was charged for fraudulently notarizing the document — a felony. He told authorities he didn't question McDougal because McDougal was a police officer.

Thomas pleaded not guilty and completed pretrial intervention — a kind of probation for first-time offenders that, if successfully completed, results in a charge being dropped.

McDougal was interviewed by deputies but was not charged.

Check 'Yes' or 'No'

McDougal was hired by the Zephyrhills Police Department in 1992 — after the notarized document was filed but before the Sheriff's Office investigation into the matter. In 2006, he pursued another job and became a reserve officer. When he came back to the department full-time in 2008, he filled out another employment application.

Question 7:

"Have you ever been detained by any law enforcement officer for investigative purposes or to your knowledge have you ever been the subject of or a suspect in any criminal investigation?"

McDougal checked "No."

The Concerned Citizen wrote to officials:

"The previous indiscretions of Jeff McDougal including the solicitation of Mr. Wade to commit a felony, presenting the false document as an official record, acknowledging the wrongdoing by deeding it back (After being reported), and lying about the incident on an employment application are all elements of a moral-character violation."

The anonymous author urged officials to "take appropriate action."

The present

City Manager Steve Spina got the packet Monday and talked with McDougal and Chief David Shears.

He said McDougal explained he was 24 at the time, and that it was a dispute between neighbors and he made a mistake. McDougal didn't check the "yes" box on his employment application because he said he was listed as a witness in the report.

"We are looking into it," Spina said Friday. He said no council members have asked him for an investigation into the allegations.

City Council president Jodi Wilkeson said she has known McDougal for years and he works "tirelessly" to better the community, noting his involvement in the Explorers program, in which young people learn about careers in law enforcement.

She said the whole hullabaloo sounds like a "he said, she said" situation.

"I'm more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt," Wilkeson said. "I believe he is a good and honorable man."

Council vice president Lance Smith also said the packet seems personal.

"Somebody is upset with him," Smith said. "That's obvious."

Smith wants McDougal to talk with council members — ­either individually or as a group at a meeting ­­— about what did or didn't happen.

"Mr. McDougal did make a mistake," Smith said.

Royce and Janet Mitchell moved from Dade City to Cedar Key in 1999. On Friday, Janet said she's heard about what's going on in Zephyrhills — but said she had nothing to do with the packet.

She's still angry, though.

"He tried to steal our land from us," she said.

She said after she and her husband signed the document, McDougal said he was going to come back with a notary to make it official — but that never happened. Then, they found out he filed it without them.

"He didn't do us right," she said. "He lied."

The captain

McDougal doesn't know who sent the packets to officials. He said he doesn't want to speculate on who it could be.

"I don't want to reward this kind of behavior," he said.

He said the easement incident was "more of a clerical error" and he felt awful when the notary was charged. He said his superiors at the Zephyrhills Police Department knew about it — so, he wasn't hiding anything. In 2008, he checked "no" on the application because he said he was listed as a witness in the investigation.

He said it's been a rough few days.

"That's the way the job goes sometimes," he said. "You have to have a thick skin."

Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

Anonymous letter accuses Zephyrhills police captain of covering up old scandal 03/19/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 19, 2010 9:27pm]

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