Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Public safety

Pinellas deputy fired after investigation finds he allowed sleeping, wrestling on the job

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri fired a deputy after an investigation into his relationships with two female deputies led to the discovery of other infractions.

Over the course of several months, Scott Nichols didn't stop eight detention deputies from activities including playing games, sleeping and wrestling on the job, according to an internal investigation. Nichols, 32, would often participate, as well as record and photograph the activity on his cellphone.

"Given the totality of this and his overall conduct," Gualtieri said Wednesday, "he doesn't need to work here anymore."

Nichols, who the Sheriff's Office said was hired in May 2007, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Days before his termination on Friday, Nichols was demoted from corporal to deputy and handed down 80 hours of suspension after an investigation found he engaged in intimate relationships with two married deputies while he was also married.

In one of the relationships, Nichols and Deputy Ashley Wheatley met in an unoccupied room in the Pinellas County Jail several times, sometimes for up to 55 minutes, surveillance videos showed. He also sent several social media messages to Wheatley, 30, insulting supervisors who prevented them from spending time together.

Wheatley, who was hired in September 2013, was suspended for 40 hours. The other female deputy received eight hours of suspension.

While looking into those claims, investigators found pictures and videos on Nichols' phone showing the misconduct from the deputies working for him, Gualtieri said. Nichols sent some of those photos to Sgt. Michael Smith, who was his supervisor during some of the incidents.

One photo, sent in a group text between Smith, 49, and his subordinates, showed a deputy lying on the ground holding his throat, according to an investigative report. When Smith asked what was going on, someone responded that a deputy had "choked out" another deputy. Smith took no action to learn more or stop what was happening, according to the investigation. In another thread, Smith insulted the instructor of a crisis intervention training class and called the training useless, Gualtieri said.

Smith, who has worked for the agency since July 2002, was demoted to deputy and given a 56-hour suspension. Deputies John Fischer and Christopher Hollin were each given 40 hours suspension for their roles in the misconduct. Three other deputies received suspensions ranging from eight to 24 hours.

Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or [email protected] Follow @kathrynvarn.

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