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Missing tape muddies firing of Port Richey police officer

Funny how the documentation of conversations between Bill Sager and Mathias Brewi keeps disappearing from Port Richey City Hall.

Sager, the 23-year veteran of the city police force, was fired Sept. 3, after the administration accused him of violating city policies by circulating a tongue-in-cheek memorandum about new office rules governing such things as employees' dress code, sick days and lunch breaks. Sager denies the allegation and a hearing is scheduled Thursday.

Brewi served one year as public safety director before resigning in May to return to his home on Florida's east coast.

Four days before his termination, Sager filed a complaint with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement about Brewi. Evidence indicates Brewi made a clandestine recording of a conversation (or one-sided, hostile berating, according to Sager's account) with the officer in May, the day Brewi announced his departure. Brewi acknowledged as much in an e-mail to current City Manager Richard Reade and said he was on firm legal ground because Sager was instructed not to speak.

Sounds like a stretch. State law says all parties in a conversation are to be informed of its recording at the outset unless it is part of a criminal investigation. Sager, it would appear, has a legitimate beef.

But producing the tape is another story. Apparently the ghost of Rosemary Woods abounds. Or, in Port Richey's case, it is a page from the Vince Lupo playbook.

In the e-mail, Brewi told Reade he dropped the recording. He said it broke and he had to throw it in the garbage.

Sound familiar?

Port Richey residents may remember then-City Manager Lupo produced a similar excuse after tape recording a city resident in 1997 and then failing to provide a copy of the tape under a public records request.

Perhaps City Hall's next capital investment should be more sturdy tape recording equipment. It will eliminate the need for public employees to use their personal electronic devices for recordings that somehow malfunction or lead to broken tapes.

Sager notified authorities of what he believed to be an illegal taping. The Sheriff's Office and prosecutors say there is little they can do without the tape. No evidence. No crime.

You have to wonder if that strategy wasn't tried at least once before. Evidence from an earlier conversation between Sager and Brewi also failed to be retained at City Hall. Brewi, while in town interviewing for the director's job in April 2007, used a racial epithet during a conversation with Sager.

Sager's boss, then-City Manager Jerry Calhoun, told Sager to put his recollection of the conversation in writing. Brewi acknowledged using the n-word, but said he was being critical of rap music lyrics and Calhoun offered him the job after he said he did further background checks.

Sager's hand-written memorandum on Police Department letterhead, however, somehow disappeared from City Hall even though it was addressed to the city manager and "files public safety director.'' Its existence didn't become known to council members until five months after Brewi started working for the city. Nobody ever has offered a legitimate explanation for its disappearance.

The response from then-public officials at City Hall was to criticize Sager. It figures. Sager spent 16 years as the department's second in command, served two separate stints as interim chief and more than two years as chief before returning to patrol after Brewi's hiring. (Sager did not meet the requirements to apply for the newly created public safety director's position.)

He is a highly regarded cop who, as chief, was commended for moving the department toward accreditation, proposing a volunteer auxiliary and working within his budget.

Now he's out of a job because someone believes he is the author of a joke memorandum that bears no signature but is made to appear to come from Reade.

Judging from past history, if somebody had affixed Sager's name to the memo, it would have ended up lost, anyway.

Reach C.T. Bowen at or (727) 869-6239.

Missing tape muddies firing of Port Richey police officer 09/16/08 [Last modified: Friday, September 19, 2008 8:23pm]
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