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Deputy's superiors reprimanded in DUI case

A Hernando County deputy won't be punished for sending a fellow officer home from jail after initially planning to arrest him for drunken driving.

The deputy's two immediate supervisors, however, have been reprimanded for their roles in the incident.

Sheriff Tom Mylander released a statement Wednesday saying that the officer who was pulled over, A Pasco County deputy, showed "classic signs of an obvious DUI suspect. The driver in fact had great difficulty in just standing up."

Hernando Deputy William Steele, 37, was just bending to pressure when he decided not to charge Pasco sheriff's Sgt. Kurt A. Gell after stopping his weaving car Tuesday morning, Mylander said Wednesday.

Steele's two immediate supervisors, Sgt. Lanny Corlew and Lt. Robert Henning, were given written reprimands for implying that Steele should not arrest Gell.

Steele saw Gell's white Ford Bronco about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday "weaving drastically across the double yellow line" a report says.

He stopped the car and "the driver got out and stumbled into the traffic way, with his badge case in his hand," Steele wrote. "This deputy recognized a typical "Sheriff's gold shield.' "

As Gell told Steele not to arrest him as a matter of "professional courtesy," Steele smelled alcohol on Gell's breath, a report says.

He found an open can of beer and two unopened cans of beer in the car.

A tape of Steele's conversation with his radio dispatcher and Corlew showed that he planned to arrest Gell but wanted to clear the decision with his superior. He radioed for Corlew to meet him at the jail.

When Corlew learned at the jail who the prisoner was, he called his superior, Henning.

"Lt. Henning requested that I speak with Deputy Steele to see if he would unarrest the subject, however, Lt. Henning emphasized that it was Deputy Steele's decision," wrote Corlew.

"At this point I took Deputy Steele aside and advised him that this was his arrest and the decision was entirely his, but that Lt. Henning had recommended that he unarrest the subject and help him find alternative transportation home."

Steele soon decided to let Gell go without a formal arrest and a jail worker covered the booking log entry with correction fluid.

Gell was placed on administrative leave Tuesday morning and still faces possible arrest. Mylander said he told Steele to fill out a report regarding the incident.

Mylander did not know whether Steele planned to pursue criminal charges against Gell, but he said the deputy probably would take the report to the state attorney's office.

Mylander said he understood why Steele hesitated to go against his superiors' recommendations.

"I didn't see anything where he had done anything wrong except being pressured," Mylander said. "Maybe I would have felt the same."

Gell's arrest and the events that followed also are under investigation by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, said spokesman Jon Powers, who declined to comment further on the specifics of the case.