PORT RICHEY — Mayor Dale Massad fired repeatedly at deputies with a .40-caliber handgun when they busted down his door to arrest him Thursday, but he didn’t hit anyone and they held their fire, Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said.
"He's lucky he's not dead," Nocco said at a news conference later that day.
Still, the 68-year-old leader of this small, coastal Pasco County city now faces charges potentially more serious than the ones that first drew a sheriff’s SWAT team to his two-story, waterfront home before dawn Thursday.
A four-month investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement determined that Massad, who lost his medical license in 1992 over the death of a 3-year-old patient, has been practicing medicine without a license — ordering drugs online, injecting people and suturing wounds at his home, FDLE said.
The gunfire Thursday morning means Massad also faces charges of attempted homicide and throws the future of Port Richey's executive office into question.
He was being held in the Pasco County jail without bail.
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The Sheriff’s Office gave this account of the raid:
When deputies announced their presence at Massad’s home Thursday morning, he didn’t come out. A deputy tried busting the front door down with a battering ram, and another deputy blasted the locks off with a shotgun.
Then, a deputy opened the door and sent in a flash-bang distraction device. That’s when Massad fired two rounds toward the entrance with a .40-caliber H&K pistol, the Sheriff’s Office said.
The deputies retreated to cover. One of them looked up and saw Massad, dressed in green shorts, holding the pistol and talking on a cell phone, an arrest report says.
Deputies were about to launch a gas container into the house when Massad walked out, Nocco said.
He was one of four people inside, the Sheriff’s Office said, and afterward he admitted to firing the gun toward the door.
Nocco praised his deputies for their response to the gunfire.
In not shooting back, he said, “they did what they thought was appropriate at the time.”Still, he said, they had every right to shoot.
Nocco called Massad a violent drug user and said he had a number of weapons in his home. Massad, who has had run-ins with the law before including an arrest over fighting with his girlfriend, said he did not want to go back to jail, according to Nocco.
Deputies suspected he was on drugs during the raid.
Authorities Thursday morning blocked public access to the area around Massad’s two-story, 3,200-square-foot home on Miller’s Bayou at the end of Hayward Lane.
Linda and Brian Van Es, both 57, live on Bluepoint Drive across a canal from Massad’s house and woke to the sound of gunshots.
“Four quick, ‘Pow, pow, pow, pow,’” Linda Van Es said.
The couple didn’t know what was going on, so they stayed away from their windows. Then Linda Van Es heard deputies on a loudspeaker commanding someone to drop a gun and come out of a house.
“It’s unfortunate, but it’s not surprising,” she said, “because of his history.”
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Massad relinquished his medical license in 1992 after the state Board of Medicine filed a number of counts against him — malpractice, faulty record-keeping, human experimentation without consent and delegating duties to an unqualified person.
They arose from his treatment in 1990 of a 3-year-old girl for birthmarks on her face.
Massad used laser treatments on the girl, according to Board of Medicine records, and gave her medications such as Valium without determine a proper dosage. Massad also had a dentist inject her with an anesthetic and failed to recognize it was a fatally toxic dose, according to the records.
The names of the girl and the dentist are not included in the records.
At the time, the chairman of the state licensing board called Massad a "serious threat to the public."
Nearly 30 years later, FDLE launched its investigation into Massad after receiving a tip from the Port Richey Police Department that he was practicing medicine.
Agents learned that at least one patient required hospital treatment after undergoing a procedure from Massad, FDLE said.
Massad won a three-way race for mayor in 2015 with 182 votes, 40 percent of the ballots cast. He was re-elected without opposition in 2017.
It was unclear Thursday what will become of the mayor’s office in this city of 2,800.
Port Richey officials have said previously that the city charter allows a City Council majority to remove a council member from office for malfeasance, misfeasance or nonfeasance. Port Richey has a mayor, vice mayor and three council members.
City Councilwoman Jennie Sorrell said the city's attorney is reviewing options.
Sorrell said she assumes Vice Mayor Terrence Rowe, will step in for Massad.
Staff writers CT Bowen and Douglas Clifford contributed to this report. Contact Justin Trombly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @JustinTrombly.