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Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco fires deputy for planting evidence

Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco says he doesn’t know when the feud started, or why. [BRENDAN FITTERER | Times]
Published Mar. 2, 2016

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco announced Tuesday that he fired a deputy for arranging to have evidence planted on a suspect during a November 2015 arrest.

The sheriff dismissed Stephen LeBlanc, 29, a patrol deputy who had been with the agency since July 2014. The sheriff said it appeared that the deputy was involved in a feud with a man he arrested last year, Thomas Parisi, 31.

Nocco said he didn't know when the feud started, or why.

LeBlanc told the Tampa Bay Times that he was focused on stopping the drug activity where Parisi lived. He also denied doing anything wrong, since Parisi was never charged in connection with the planted evidence. However, the ex-deputy apologized nonetheless.

"I lost my cool and my emotions got the best of me," LeBlanc said.

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office said the incident took place Nov. 20. LeBlanc arrested Parisi on a charge of criminal mischief, accusing him of using spray paint to vandalize a county-owned wall at the corner of Van Doren Avenue and Cross Bayou Boulevard.

While LeBlanc was making the arrest, the sheriff said the deputy coerced another man, James Lee Holder, 33, to put drug paraphernalia from his house into Parisi's backpack. Holder put two spoons with drug residue, a crack pipe with cocaine residue and an unused syringe into Parisi's backpack, according to the sheriff.

"(LeBlanc) had the intent to try to get Parisi jammed up with more charges," Nocco said.

LeBlanc, though, changed his mind, and instead dropped the backpack off at Parisi's house. The deputy took Parisi to jail on the criminal mischief charge, and he was later freed.

The ex-deputy admitted asking Holder to plant evidence in Parisi's bag. But LeBlanc said that in the end, he doesn't believe he did anything wrong because Parisi was never charged with possessing the drug paraphernalia, just for the vandalism.

"Ultimately, I feel as though I did the right thing," LeBlanc said. "I arrested a guy for the crime he committed, and he went to jail for the crime he committed."

After Parisi left jail, he went to check himself into a rehabilitation facility, Nocco said, and took his backpack with him, unaware of the drug paraphernalia inside. When staffers found the items, they called the Sheriff's Office, and Nocco said that led to LeBlanc getting caught.

The beef between LeBlanc and Parisi seems to have started before last year's vandalism incident, Nocco said. Parisi once mocked the deputy by spray painting his own trailer with the words "LeBlanc for Sheriff 2016."

From that point forward, the sheriff said, LeBlanc targeted Parisi. The deputy even went to Parisi's Van Doren Avenue neighborhood while he was off-duty to investigate him.

"I took great pride in my job as a law enforcement officer," LeBlanc said, "and I paid particular interest in that street due to its drug activity."

Parisi could not be reached for comment.

The Sheriff's Office officially terminated LeBlanc, an Army veteran, on Monday for the following violations: taking suitable action, handling property, processing property and evidence, violating laws relating to the Sheriff's Office, conduct unbecoming a member of the agency, providing inaccurate statements and failure to follow general orders regarding ethics and body-worn cameras.

The sheriff's attorneys have also recommended to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office that LeBlanc be charged with obstruction of justice and evidence tampering.

"We want to make sure that we are as honest and transparent as possible with our citizens," Nocco said.

Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or jsolomon@tampabay.com. Follow @josh_solomon15.

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