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In its first week on the job, a private security firm hired by the sheriff to protect the courthouse had to remove a guard who fell asleep, the company has confirmed.

The incident occurred Sept. 3, just three days after Wackenhut Corp. began operating two security checkpoints at the Hernando County Government Center under a $220,000 contract with the Sheriff's Office.

The armed guard was seen sleeping at a table in the cafeteria on the third floor of the government center during his lunch break. The company immediately suspended the guard and formally fired him Wednesday, said Wackenhut's Jim Parrish, the general manager of the Tampa office

Parrish would not identify the guard, a retired law enforcement officer from Philadelphia, citing company policy.

This is not the first time the company and its parent, Group 4 Falck AS of Denmark, have been embarrassed by sleeping guards.

In 2008, Florida Power & Light was fined $130,000 by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission when an investigation revealed that Wackenhut guards repeatedly slept on the job at the power company's Turkey Point nuclear plant.

Parrish said the Hernando County incident should not diminish the public's perception of security at the courthouse.

Sheriff Richard Nugent hired the Palm Beach Gardens-based firm in August, saying it would save money.

The sworn deputies who operate the security posts are helping in the transition, which ended Friday. Starting today, they will fill vacant positions in patrol units.