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Demoted deputy to stay with sheriff

After a flap with the boss cost him his sergeant's stripes _ and at least $3,200 in annual pay _ William Lawless took a hard look at his options.

The 35-year-old deputy considered applying for an investigator's position with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He weighed a friend's offer to let him run a private detective firm in Tampa. He even debated flying to Bosnia to work as a tactical instructor for a U.N.-sanctioned company, an option that made his family less than sanguine.

But after a private discussion last week with the man who demoted him to patrol duty in a controversial move _ Pasco County Sheriff Lee Cannon _ Lawless said he will stay in Pasco.

"We sat down and talked, and I don't have a problem with him and he doesn't have a problem with me," Lawless said Friday. "And I think everything will work out."

Cannon demoted Lawless in March for failing to follow through on what the sheriff considered a promise to apologize to Circuit Judge Joseph Donahey Jr., whom Lawless criticized in a letter to the Times.

On the day a Times story appeared detailing that development, Lawless was ousted from his job as SWAT supervisor. The sheriff's office said the move was planned before the article appeared.

With the $3,200 salary cut and loss of longevity pay and SWAT-related overtime, Lawless estimated the career shakeup would cost him about $7,500 a year.

Speculation swirled about his future and whether the sheriff's office would play a role in it. Now, while he will remain a patrol deputy, Lawless said, "I'm going to stay and work with the administration to resolve it."

Cannon, who contended he had lost faith in Lawless in a supervisor's role, faced a blizzard of criticism for his treatment of the highly decorated deputy with 12 years of local service.

Lawless' supporters said he was unjustly penalized for a misunderstanding, and some framed it as a First Amendment issue. Cannon's supporters said Lawless let his anger get the best of him in writing the letter concerning Donahey.

Neither Cannon nor Lawless would elaborate on their conversation last week, but the sheriff described it Friday as "a nice long talk to clear the air."

Asked if he might regain faith in Lawless, Cannon said, "People mature. People change.

"I have no animosity toward him, and he has no animosity toward me," Cannon said. "The man works hard. There's no reason he couldn't have a future here."