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Patrolman let his colleague off

The red 1989 Mustang was weaving as it moved north on U.S. 19 one night last November.

Suspecting a case of drunken driving, a Port Richey police officer stopped the car. He found that the driver smelled of alcohol, stumbled and spoke indistinctly. He appeared, in the officer's own words, to be "severely intoxicated."

But Patrol Officer Keith Longworth didn't arrest the driver, who had identified himself as an employee of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

A former employee of the Sheriff's Office, Longworth called sheriff supervisors to the scene and told them he didn't want to arrest Nicholas Sagnelli because he was a fellow officer.

Although sheriff's investigators soon learned that Sagnelli's blood-alcohol level was almost twice the legal limit, Port Richey never filed a charge against him.

"I don't believe it was handled properly," said Port Richey Police Chief Al Latchford, who took over the 10-officer department three weeks after the incident. Longworth _ who since has resigned _ "should have made an arrest."

According to a sheriff's internal investigation, the Sheriff's Office supervisors at the scene that night repeatedly asked Longworth "to do what he had to do." They weren't able to arrest Sagnelli _ who was fired Tuesday _ because they hadn't seen him driving and stumbling. After Longworth declined, they had Sagnelli take a breath test for administrative purposes.

Two tests showed that Sagnelli, a corrections officer who transported prisoners, had a blood-alcohol content of more than .18 percent _ almost twice the figure at which intoxication is presumed under Florida law.

Longworth, who was not disciplined for his conduct in the incident, resigned in early January from the Port Richey Police Department. He is not eligible for rehire.

Sheriff's officials fired Sagnelli, 36, because of events surrounding his drunken-driving arrest Jan. 18 by a Pasco deputy near the Off Campus bar north of Port Richey.

And in a second firing Tuesday, officials dismissed corrections officer Paul D. Fraley, 25, who was accused of drinking and fighting at Diamond Dolls before becoming involved in a single-car crash last September. Both Sagnelli and Fraley were hired by the Sheriff's Office on July 30, 1990.

Both men face misdemeanor charges of drunken driving that have not been resolved.

After being charged with drunken driving, Fraley continued to work at the county jail in Land O'Lakes. But Sagnelli had been placed on administrative leave with pay Oct. 23 _ more than a week before he was stopped in Port Richey _ and he still was earning money while at home on administrative leave when he was arrested on the drunken driving charge Jan. 18.

"Send me home for four months, too _ that'd be great," said the sheriff's chief deputy, Jim Francis, in an interview last month in which he was trying to explain the length of the investigation focusing on Sagnelli.

Pasco Sheriff Jim Gillum said Tuesday that a number of allegations made against Sagnelli in recent months resulted in "a lot of overlapping investigations."

Within the last six months, sheriff's internal investigators have suspended Sagnelli for three days without pay for the Port Richey incident; cleared him of an allegation of battery made by his estranged wife; cleared him of an allegation of filing a false theft report; gave him a letter of reprimand for improper display of a firearm; and cleared him of an allegation of abuse of position.

When he was contacted Tuesday, Sagnelli declined comment until he had spoken to his attorney. Sagnelli has indicated to the Sheriff's Office that he will appeal his firing to the Career Service Appeals Board.

Gillum said there are no general guidelines for discipline when a deputy is charged with drunken driving.

"It depends on the circumstances," Gillum said. "We view each of the circumstances involved."

Last month sheriff's officials suspended Sgt. Robert Cressman for five days without pay. A Largo police officer had stopped Cressman for erratically driving a Sheriff's Office car in Largo one night in December.

The officer said Cressman showed signs of intoxication, but he did not administer any tests to Cressman, and allowed Cressman's roommate to take him home. The Largo officer later was transferred to other duties.

Longworth, 25, attributed his 1990 resignation from the Pasco Sheriff's Office to "personal conflicts." He said he resigned from the Port Richey Police Department to devote more time to college classes.

In the Port Richey internal investigation of the Sagnelli incident, Longworth said he didn't want to do anything that would damage the relationship between his police department and the Sheriff's Office. Port Richey Cpl. Walter DePietro determined in November that Longworth had not neglected his duties by letting Sagnelli go.

Chief Latchford said he would do his best to prevent that sort of roadside action, or internal investigation, from occurring again.

"That kind of investigation won't be conducted that way in the future while I'm chief," he said.