PORT RICHEY — A 24-year veteran and former chief of the Port Richey Police Department was fired Wednesday for injuries he suffered on duty.
Bill Sager, who was awaiting workers' compensation approval for rotator-cuff surgery, was told via a termination letter that his "inability to perform" his job had placed "too much of a strain on other officers."
Sager, 54, said he injured his shoulder twice in the past three years during struggles with suspects, including one who smashed the window of his cruiser and fought to escape.
Sager, who has served as a patrolman, sergeant, lieutenant and detective, was six months short of his 25th anniversary. Police officials have canceled his pay and health insurance.
Sager's disciplinary record is clean, but he is no stranger to police controversy. In recent years, Sager has been chastised, demoted and fired, though in each case authorities reinstated Sager's position or ruled in his favor.
Sager, who has hired an attorney, suspects the termination has an ulterior aim.
"I'm amazed that this is happening again," Sager said. "It doesn't surprise me, but it's absolutely amazing."
Two messages left for Chief David Brown and a representative of the West Central Florida Police Benevolent Association were not returned Wednesday.
Sager was placed on light duty as a detective in August after his shoulder injury. Last week, Sager found two suspected purse-snatchers who were charged with dragging a woman from a car in the Walmart parking lot. He was renewing his firearm qualification at the shooting range Tuesday when Brown called around noon and said to not return to headquarters.
Sager's most recent evaluation from 2008 showed glowing remarks from both Lt. Don Young, who called him an "accomplished investigator with a wealth of knowledge," and Brown, who wrote, "I count on him as an experienced officer and role model to the other officers."
In Sager's termination, Brown wrote the firing was not based on his "conduct or job performance."
As chief for four years, Sager pushed the department for stricter rules to allow accreditation. He was demoted to patrol in 2007, he said, after alerting city leaders to former public safety director Mathias Brewi's use of a racial slur. Brewi resigned later that year.
Sager was fired the next year after city officials accused him of sending a joke e-mail throughout City Hall. The sole evidence was a return address — a police union Post Office box in Sager's name. One month later, an investigation cleared Sager of the accusations, reinstated his job and allowed him to receive back pay.
Sager said he hopes that will happen again, pointing to the city's short-term and long-term disability options that he said the city has yet to offer. The state allows full benefits for officers with 25 years of service at age 52 or 10 years of service at age 55. Because of the firing, Sager said he will need to wait a year before receiving any pay or benefits.
"Until that date I'm swinging in the wind," Sager said. "I'm wondering if I'm going to be bagging groceries at Publix between now and then."