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Ex-deputy: Abuse charge was made up

William Steele says sheriff's investigators fabricated the child-abuse complaint that his wife allegedly lodged against him late last month.

The state attorney's office found that there was not enough evidence to prosecute the former sheriff's deputy and dismissed the complaint. Steele resigned Sept. 29, claiming that the allegations alone would put the agency in an unfavorable light.

On Tuesday, from the pool deck of his Rainbow Woods home, Steele read aloud several prepared statements, one that was attributed to his wife, Judith.

Steele criticized the Sheriff's Office for conducting a "failed lynching."

"My wife has never made a complaint," he said. "The department came up with the complaint."

The former deputy said he was driven out of the department by members of the agency who wanted revenge for his role in the "unarrest" of a Pasco sheriff's deputy earlier this year.

That embarrassing incident got two of Steele's superiors reprimanded, while the deputy was cleared of any wrongdoing.

"At that time, I was advised that what I did was not smart, that arresting deputies was not tolerated down here in the South," Steele said.

Steele's allegation that the complaint was fabricated angered Sheriff Thomas Mylander.

"It ticks me off that he would even say anything like that," the sheriff said. "This guy is playing games, and I don't like that at all."

Authorities say the investigation stemmed from comments Judith Steele made when a deputy went to their home regarding a domestic dispute over money. She allegedly said Steele had battered her 10-year-old son.

Steele said discipline has sometimes included spanking, but he denied abusing the boy.

In an unsigned statement, which Steele said was written by his wife, Mrs. Steele agreed that the abuse allegation had been used by the Sheriff's Office to get back at her husband. She also criticized the handling of the case.

Mrs. Steele was not present when her husband read the statement.

The comments she made to the deputy who handled the domestic incident were supposed to be confidential and should not have resulted in an abuse investigation, he said.

Mylander said Mrs. Steele had accused her husband of abusing the boy, then she later said the allegation was meant to give her an advantage over her husband, who was threatening to sell her car when she wouldn't give him $5,000 that belonged to him.

"If that was just in passing, she shouldn't have said it," Mylander said. "But what they say is serious. (Steele) of all people should know that."