Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hernando sheriff wants new policy on office romance

BROOKSVILLE — An internal investigation that led to the resignation of a veteran sergeant has prompted Sheriff Richard Nugent to push for a new departmental policy that would bar romances between supervisors and other employees at the Sheriff's Office.

Nugent said the policy is a direct response to the investigation into the conduct of Sgt. Donnie Smith, who was accused of battering a former girlfriend in late May, lying to investigators during his testimony about the case and carrying on a romantic relationship with a deputy who he had supervised.

"It's a shame that you have to legislate common sense," Nugent said Friday. "But obviously, we do."

According to documents released Friday, the internal investigation proved that Smith violated the officers code of conduct and his supervisory responsibility. However, Smith avoided punishment in the case because he resigned Wednesday, two days after he was reportedly involved in an unrelated verbal altercation with the boyfriend of his ex-wife at her home; he faces no charges in that incident.

Smith, 40, had worked at the Sheriff's Office since August 1998.

"It is with deep sorrow and regret that I submit my letter of resignation," Smith wrote in a letter to Nugent and other Sheriff's Office colleagues. "I have enjoyed my 10 years of employment; have had many enjoyable adventures and many good memories."

In a related internal investigation, Deputy Cari Grasso was suspended for three days and had her probation extended for six months for conduct unbecoming an officer. Grasso was accused of leaving her shift early June 17 to see Smith at his home in northern Hernando County, where her supervisor and another deputy witnessed her and Smith "engaged in romantic embraces and kissing while standing outside of his residence," according to the report.

Grasso, 29, will end her probation in February; it had been set to conclude in August.

Nugent said the new fraternization policy would be implemented within a couple of weeks, pending some last-minute tweaks and a review by the deputies union.

"You can't cover everything," Nugent said. "But we have to take a proactive approach when dealing with people who act in an unethical manner at the Sheriff's Office. As far as I know, this had not been an issue in the past."

The trouble all started on the evening of May 31 or early on the morning of June 1 at Jersey's Hometown Tavern, at 4598 Commercial Way in Spring Hill.

According to sheriff's reports, Smith's former girlfriend, who worked as a Sheriff's Office communications employee earlier this year, said that Smith hit her in her mouth, pulled out a clump of her hair and broke her cell phone after an argument in the bar. The accuser had become upset when she saw Smith "placing his hands on and groping" Grasso in the bar, according to the report.

Smith denied those allegations, or that he had ever hit the woman during their relationship, which started in August 2007.

After the former girlfriend's accusations and an investigation by the Sheriff's Office, the case was forwarded to the State Attorney's Office in Citrus County, which Assistant State Attorney Richard Buxman said was done to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

On July 9, the State Attorney's Office informed the Sheriff's Office that no criminal charges would be filed in the case. That kicked off the internal investigation.

Investigators found that "the preponderance of evidence indicates that some type of altercation occurred" and "Smith was obviously in a relationship that was ending and used poor judgment regarding his personal issues with this individual."

Smith couldn't immediately be reached for comment Friday.

Joel Anderson can be reached at or (352) 754-6120.

Hernando sheriff wants new policy on office romance 09/05/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 10, 2008 11:11am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Good luck finding solar eclipse glasses across Tampa Bay, U.S.


    Andi Figart pulled up to the New Port Richey Library on Thursday morning to an unusual sight.

    NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 11: Pairs of free solar eclipse glasses sit on display at a Warby Parker store  on August 11, 2017 in New York City. To view the upcoming total solar eclipse on August 21 eye protection is essential. The designer eyeglass store expects to give out thousands of pairs of the glasses before the event.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
  2. Republicans face primary in whirlwind special election for Plant City-area House seat


    PLANT CITY — With qualifying completed this week, the field is set in a whirlwind special election to replace state Rep. Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City — and the race could come down to two candidates in a Republican primary, Yvonne Fry and Lawrence McClure.

    Yvonne Fry is one of two Republican candidates with strong Plant City ties to quality for a special election in state House District 58.
  3. Tim Tebow came into their life, and never left


    There are a lot of stories about Tim Tebow connecting with people during his life, Tebow inspiring them and Tebow being inspired.

    Boomer Hornbeck of Naples, Fla., has battled cerebral palsy and undergone surgery after surgery in the hopes of allowing him to one day walk. Inspired by Tim Tebow, and encouraged by his relationship with him, Hornbeck has become a motivational speaker.
  4. Wrestler Ric Flair in critical condition with 'multiple organ problems,' family says


    CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Ric Flair's fiancee shared more details of his illness in a Facebook post, and his condition is more serious than fans imagined for the hospitalized wrestling icon.

    Ric Flair photographed in 2009. [Getty]
  5. Gracepoint gifts senior residents with new home

    Human Interest

    SEMINOLE HEIGHTS — When Mary Myles became program manager of The Graham Home 25 years ago, 30 adults with special needs occupied 65 square-foot apartments.

    The Graham at Gracepoint, the senior living apartments at 2400 East Henry Ave., was their first facility built from the ground up.