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Abuse charge against ex-deputy dropped; boy to getprotection

The state attorney's office has agreed to drop charges of child abuse and resisting arrest against former sheriff's Deputy William H. Steele in return for allowing the court to protect the alleged abuse victim.

Little information is available about the case because of a gag order imposed in November on the dependency case involving the child, said Assistant State Attorney Rita Battista.

"The child is being protected, but we cannot give any details of this because of the gag order," Battista said.

The state agreed to the deal because it ensured that the boy would be protected, she said.

"It's for the child," she said.

Battista said the agreement, which was signed Friday, is similar to a pretrial intervention agreement.

It requires Steele to fulfill certain stipulations as part of the dependency hearing. If he fails to do so, Battista said, the state can file the charges again.

She could not elaborate on the nature of the requirements, she said. Neither Steele nor his attorney, Tom Hogan, could be reached for comment.

Steele was 38 and his stepson 11 when the deputy was arrested Nov. 1 and charged with aggravated child abuse and resisting arrest.

According to court documents, Steele, who is a veteran of Operation Desert Storm, hit the boy, placed padlocks on the family's refrigerator to keep him out of it, and made him sleep on an Army cot.

Court records also said the boy was severely depressed because of his treatment.

Circuit Judge William Swigert granted a gag order about two weeks later to protect the boy from the effects of media coverage. Though the order originally covered the criminal case and the parallel dependency case, he later amended it to cover only the latter.

Steele served as a Hernando County deputy in 1991 and 1992 before resigning amid the abuse allegations.