Thursday, December 14, 2017
Public safety

Pasco, Hernando sheriffs uneasy over law enforcement academy instructor

Late on a Friday night last year, a 14-year-old girl rolled out of the Astro Skate rink's thumping music to take a phone call. She bent over to adjust her skate. When she looked up, she would later say, she spotted a police officer standing behind her with a cellphone, the phone's camera pointed at her rear.

The girl skated over to her father to tell him what happened and that the officer was following her and a friend around the building.

The father caught Tarpon Springs police Officer James Nagy at the rink's concession stand, with his phone in video mode, according to reports.

"You and I need to talk now," the father told him.

The two went outside, the report states, where Nagy quickly stepped into his police cruiser, locked himself inside and started deleting pictures.

Nagy is now out of the business of enforcing the law, but since last September he's been on the staff at Pasco-Hernando Community College's Law Enforcement Academy.

And the sheriffs who recruit from the academy are concerned that a man who's been drummed out of two agencies is teaching new cadets how to be officers.

• • •

James Nagy was born 50 years ago in New York. He moved to Florida and went to East Bay High in Gibsonton, then waited tables at a restaurant and managed inventory at a Kash n' Karry. He started his career at the Pasco Sheriff's Office as a patrol deputy in July 1987.

He first applied to PHCC in 1991 and landed a job as an adjunct instructor. The next year, he got certified to teach defensive tactics. Meanwhile, his station at the Sheriff's Office was rising. He became a sergeant and later a lieutenant. He commanded the SWAT team as its lead sniper. In 2004, his endurance brought him a bronze medal in the Toughest Cop Alive competition. At the community college, he became certified as a firearms instructor.

Then in 2006 while working security at Livestock, a now-defunct outdoor music festival in Zephyrhills, he came under scrutiny for something alarming. While on duty, records show, Nagy pulled out a camera and snapped inappropriate photos of women in the audience.

Detectives tried to investigate the photos of "women in all states of disarray," but "the chip had been remarkably, somehow, burned to a crisp in the camera," said then-Sheriff Bob White.

Complaint sustained.

Nagy's Pasco record shows 15 internal investigations in all — generally minor issues including insubordination and unauthorized off-duty work.

The last few complaints stem from when he pulled fliers for a law enforcement union supported by White off a bulletin board without permission. Nagy then went into two lieutenants' offices and took more union fliers.

In a rebuttal letter after the complaints were sustained, Nagy indicated he thought he was strong-armed out of the agency for being at odds with White.

"Look at (the complaints) and then realize that everything that happened, happened toward the end," he said in a brief phone interview with the Tampa Bay Times last week, during which he also pointed to his two decades of "superb" commendations.

Indeed, Nagy's file contains multiple commendations for superior service.

In January 2011, after 23 years on the force, he retired from the Sheriff's Office while under five investigations.

• • •

Nagy stayed on with the community college, and seven months after retiring, he took a polygraph test as part of his search for another job as a cop. An interviewer connected him to a polygraph machine and drew out an autobiography of confessions.

Among them, Nagy admitted to going home during his shifts as a lieutenant and having sex "with his wife or girlfriend."

Nagy justified his on-duty sex saying he considered his work hours as a salaried employee different from hourly deputies.

The polygraph report made its rounds to several agencies where Nagy was applying.

Mike Puetz, St. Petersburg police spokesman, said that department rejected Nagy because of what they learned about his work history.

Sgt. Brian Unmisig of Pinellas Park police said the same. "We reviewed his (polygraph) file, and based off of that, we didn't go any further. He wasn't considered for employment based on his background."

But Tarpon Springs police looked past his history. Chief Robert Kochen offered Nagy a job Oct. 20, 2011.

He was fired less than five months later, the day the investigation started into the skating rink incident.

"There's nothing from his past that would indicate what he did at Astro Skate," Kochen said in a recent interview. "In this job, you have to uphold the public trust. When we looked at this, without hesitation, he was basically terminated."

Tarpon Springs police tried to charge him with aggravated stalking, but the allegation didn't stick because the incident was in a public place. It was referred to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which let Nagy keep his law enforcement certification, citing that he did not violate moral character rules.

In his response to police, Nagy said he was taking photos with his phone, but they were for investigative purposes as he was looking into a boy caught carrying marijuana into the skating rink around the same time.

He noted that the dance room, one of the places he was accused of filming the girls, didn't have enough ambient light for cellphone video. Investigators had no way of confirming that he was recording the girls for sure, he wrote, because he lost the phone.

• • •

In September 2012, PHCC promoted Nagy from adjunct instructor to assistant coordinator. It was eight months after Tarpon Springs fired him, and he was now on the academy staff.

His application for the new job notes that he was once lauded as the academy's "most valued instructor."

It says only that he retired from the Pasco Sheriff's Office. His time with Tarpon Springs police is omitted from his resume.

Nagy declined to comment on his resume or his promotion at the college.

His job entails processing cadet applications for the academy and corrections program, administering exams, substituting for other instructors and working campus security at night. It's 24 hours a week with a yearly salary of $21,338.05.

PHCC spokeswoman Lucy Miller said members of the college's screening committee knew of Nagy's employment history from an FDLE database.

"The database listed separation reasons reported by other agencies that did not impact his certifications or his ability to serve as a law enforcement officer or as a law enforcement instructor," Miller told the Times. "He is a certified law enforcement officer and a certified law enforcement instructor and as such is qualified for employment in those positions within the state of Florida."

Nancy Bunch, director of the academy and chair of the committee that hired Nagy, said no incidents have been reported since he was hired "and he has proven to be an effective administrator and instructor."

But Nagy's previous employers don't recommend him.

From Kochen: "At this point in time, he's definitely not a good fit for employment with us."

From White, the former sheriff: "That is not someone you want teaching your brand new recruits. I think it's human nature that they would be tainted by his attitude toward those other agencies."

PHCC is a feeder for cadets to the Pasco Sheriff's Office and Hernando Sheriff's Office. Hernando Sheriff Al Nienhuis, who previously worked with Nagy in Pasco, and Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco say they're looking to the school's president Katherine Johnson for what, if anything, will happen next.

"I believe Dr. Johnson will evaluate the situation and do what is best for the school and what is best for the law enforcement community in Hernando and Pasco County," Nocco said.

"She understands my concerns about the history there," Nienhuis said, "and I'm sure she's going to do what she feels is best for the big picture."

The new semester at PHCC starts Monday.

Times researchers Natalie Watson and Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Alex Orlando at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.

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