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New Port Richey police officer arrested in Hernando County on multiple drug charges

SPRING HILL — A New Port Richey police officer with a history of problems during his 13-year career was arrested Thursday on multiple felony narcotics charges.

John Nohejl, 35, had already been on suspension since April for sleeping on the job and neglecting his duties.

And it turned out, he was also the target of a separate investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Hernando County Sheriff's Office.

"It's disgusting that I have to stand in front of you right now and speak about one of our own officers who has been arrested," said New Port Richey police Chief James Steffens, who suspended Nohejl a few months after being named chief about a year ago.

While driving in Hernando County on Thursday night, Nohejl was pulled over at the intersection of Deltona Boulevard and Keesler Street. When the deputies stopped him, Nohejl refused to give up his identification or get out of the vehicle, the release states. Then, he drove off and was stopped again a block away.

Deputies found a hydrocodone tablet on the driver-side floorboard. They also found a bag of 27 more tablets on the side of the road where he had tossed it during the short chase, according to a news release.

Nohejl was arrested. Authorities later searched his house and found bags, pipes, scales and a trace of cocaine.

Nohejl declined the Tampa Bay Times' request for an interview.

Nohejl, whose last post at the police department was as a master patrol officer, has a lengthy disciplinary record in the agency.

Nohejl first saw trouble in the early years of his career, lying about sick days to go gambling and getting into at least four minor crashes in his patrol car, Steffens said.

He was first investigated in January 2008 when, while working as a school resource officer at Gulf Middle. A MySpace page he had set up to connect with students was linked to sexually oriented websites, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The investigation did not result in findings of wrongdoing.

He continued working at the school until that April, when a female acquaintance accused him of rape while off duty. Nohejl said the sexual encounter was consensual. Prosecutors could not confirm who was correct and did not file charges.

However, then-Chief Martin Rickus, wrote this memo to Nohejl: "It is clear that you could have handled yourself in a more appropriate and professional manner. I sincerely hope that in the future you will be more careful with whom you associate off-duty."

In August that year, a 28-year-old woman who had been accused of stealing money was riding to jail in the back of Nohejl's police cruiser. She said he pulled over for gas, then opened the back door where she sat in handcuffs and said he would let her go if she would perform a sex act on him.

She said she performed the act, but Nohejl didn't come through with his end of the deal, which is why she turned him in.

He was placed on paid suspension while FDLE investigated and found the woman to be mentally unstable. The department later determined the allegation to be unfounded.

Most recently, Nohejl had been on paid suspension since April 18, 2012, when Steffens launched another internal affairs investigation. It found Nohejl had been caught sleeping twice during the same shift, neglecting other duties. He then served 20 days of unpaid suspension. Another internal investigation was launched in November, but Steffens did not disclose details, saying it remained active. He said he hopes to be able to release details sometime in the next two weeks.

Nohejl has since been suspended without pay.

Asked why the litany of offenses and investigations, though unfounded or uncharged, had not led to Nohejl's termination, Steffens pointed to Florida law.

The police bill of rights, he said, ensures that officers under internal investigation are not fired until inexplicable evidence is found. Steffens compared the process to points on a driver's license. Offenses can rack up to a termination, but it takes time.

Jim Diamond, director of operations of west central Florida Police Benevolent Association, said he has been monitoring Nohejl's case since he was suspended, although he is being represented by his own attorney. Diamond called the process cumbersome and methodical, but necessary.

"Because these incidents involved different violations," he said, "they had to be investigated individually."

Nohejl faces charges of cocaine possession, trafficking Hydrocodone, tampering with evidence, possession of two driver licenses, fleeing to elude and two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia. He remained in the Hernando county jail Friday in lieu of $110,500 bail. Authorities were still investigating.

"I know it looks bad," Steffens said. "I know it's 13 years worth of instances. (Thursday) night was the culmination of investigations that confirmed our concerns, if not suspicions."

Alex Orlando can be reached at aorlando@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6247.

New Port Richey police officer arrested in Hernando County on multiple drug charges 01/18/13 [Last modified: Friday, January 18, 2013 9:17pm]

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