Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Public safety

Pasco deputy resigns amid EEOC complaint, internal investigations

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NEW PORT RICHEY — A Pasco sheriff's deputy with a history of interagency spats resigned last week, walking away with a $25,000 settlement and an agreement that the Sheriff's Office won't try to stop her from working at Pasco-Hernando Community College's law enforcement academy where she's been teaching for years.

The settlement also resolves a complaint that former Sgt. April Heuss filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the Sheriff's Office on May 3. The complaint, alleging sex discrimination and retaliation, claims that Heuss was "subjected to a hostile work environment and disparate treatment based on my sex including … inappropriate sexist comments, unwarranted disciplines and (Internal Affairs) investigations."

Internal investigations, a Times investigation revealed, have followed Heuss throughout her career.

The one that prompted her complaint of discrimination was launched April 12, accusing Heuss of unbecoming conduct.

Other deputies claimed that Heuss told them she was their "protector" and "buffer" from the platoon's lieutenant, a move the agency suggests undermined the lieutenant's authority.

She was placed on paid administrative leave making $22.25 an hour the same day the investigations started. She continued to collect a paycheck up until her resignation.

The latest internal investigation — during which Heuss handed in her resignation — claims that she was caught taking pictures with her cellphone of transcripts of interviews investigators held with her accusers on the previous investigation. That investigation has not yet been finalized.

"The Pasco Sheriff's Office holds ourselves to the highest integrity," Sheriff Chris Nocco said. "Our citizens are more than welcome to read any of our investigations, and if they do they will see that we have been fully justified in all our actions."

As part of the settlement agreement, Heuss agreed to drop her EEOC complaint in exchange for the Sheriff's Office allowing her to resign, not disparaging her, paying a reimbursement for classes she took and paying her the $25,000 settlement.

Sheriff's Office attorney Jeremiah Hawkes said the agency considers the settlement a severance.

Heuss has been investigated before in her tenure with the Sheriff's Office, where she worked from 2000 to 2006 and returned in 2008. Though none of the previous accusations are anything egregious — a moral character violation or a criminal act — they recur in her records, even at other agencies.

She logged three sustained internal investigations with Pasco since 2001, accused of being rude to a dispatcher, failing to document observations in a report and failing to notify the professional standards office when a deputy under her supervision was accused of battery.

In as much time, she was commended 45 times for her work in the field.

During her year at the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office between 2007 and 2008, Heuss had three sustained violations: two for discourtesy and one for excessive computer use and neglecting duty.

Records show that Heuss, 40, also worked at Kenneth City Police Department, Largo Police Department and Clearwater Police Department before joining the Pasco Sheriff's Office in 2000.

She began as an adjunct instructor at PHCC in 2003 and has taught several classes. Her hourly wage there of $25 increased to $28 in August. Heuss is teaching a basic recruit law enforcement academy class for the fall semester.

Nancy Bunch, director of the community college's public service programs, said she was not concerned when she found out Heuss was being investigated. Though Heuss was banned by policy from discussing the investigations with college officials, Bunch said she was assured they were not for anything criminal or otherwise questionable. "When I look at internal affairs investigations," Bunch said, "my primary concern is whether or not it is a moral character violation."

Bunch said Heuss' standing with the college won't be affected because she resigned under investigation.

"She's really good about going out and finding extra info … integrating news stories and YouTube clips," Bunch said. "She really tried hard to enhance the educational experiences for the cadets and she's gotten really good reviews."

Heuss declined to speak for this story and directed all questions to her attorney Kendra Presswood.

"She loves teaching. She really enjoys it," Presswood said. "And she loved being in law enforcement, too."

Contact Alex Orlando at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.

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