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One more ex-worker sues sheriff

Another former Pasco County Sheriff's Office employee has filed suit against Sheriff Lee Cannon, saying Cannon fired him because he supported the sheriff's political opponent.

Raymond L. Emmons, director of inspectional services under former Sheriff Jim Gillum, alleges Cannon fired him upon taking office last year because Emmons supported Gillum during the 1992 sheriff's campaign.

This marks at least the fourth lawsuit filed against Cannon by former employees claiming they were forced out or fired because they opposed Cannon politically.

Cannon's top aide, Harold Sample, said Friday that the sheriff hadn't been served with Emmons' lawsuit, filed in federal court in Tampa. After seeing a reporter's copy, he called the suit's allegations wrong and "all politics."

"He wasn't kept on because of the discretion of changing the administrative style and the direction the Sheriff's Office was taking," Sample said. "We categorically deny the allegation that it was based on his support of Sheriff Gillum.

"There are a lot of people that strongly supported Sheriff Gillum who are still here and very active members of this agency."

Emmons' suit further alleges that he was fired because he helped investigate Nicholas Sagnelli, a former corrections officer whom Cannon had represented in his private criminal defense practice.

Sagnelli was fired from the Sheriff's Office in February 1992 for events surrounding his arrest on a drunken driving charge. An internal affairs investigation showed that a Port Richey police officer let Sagnelli leave the scene of the traffic stop, even though Sagnelli appeared intoxicated. The Port Richey officer, Keith Longworth, later resigned.

Cannon has said he represented Sagnelli at one time. Sample said, that "absolutely did not" weigh on his decision to dismiss Emmons.

"The voters of this county said they wanted a change, and Sheriff Cannon brought in his administrative team and the people he selected," Sample said. "Mr. Emmons was just not selected to be on that team."

Emmons' suit asks for a jury trial, damages, reinstatement to his job and all lost salary.

Mario Pascalli, a former vice and narcotics detective, sued Cannon in July, saying Cannon retaliated against him because he supported Gillum. Pascalli also said Cannon targeted him because he investigated a confidential informant's allegation that Cannon had accepted a $50,000 campaign donation from a drug dealer. No evidence was ever brought forth to support that allegation.

Pascalli's captain, Francis "Gene" Caruso, filed suit in December, saying Cannon also retaliated against him because Caruso spearheaded the inquiry into the drug money allegations.

An internal affairs investigation found that Pascalli had violated numerous Sheriff's Office regulations, and Caruso had failed to properly discipline him, according to the internal investigation records.

Ken Tallier, a former detective, sued Cannon last fall, saying he was forced to resign when Cannon's officials harassed him because he worked for Republican County Commissioner Ed Collins' campaign.