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Deputy returns to head sheriff's unit

He's only 28 years old, but Brett Chianella is the right man to head internal investigations, says Pasco Sheriff Bob White.

By RYAN DAVIS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 24, 2002


The last time Brett Chianella worked for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office was 10 years ago, when he was a school crossing guard making little more than $100 a week.

On March 15, Chianella returned in a suit and tie as a man in a position to alter the careers of anybody in the agency. He's in charge of the professional standards unit that conducts internal investigations.

And he's still only 28 years old.

The person who holds the equivalent position in the Hernando County Sheriff's Office is 39 years old and has 20 years of law enforcement experience. In Hillsborough, the person is 47 and has 20 years of experience. In Pinellas, he's 46 with 28 years experience.

"I don't think his age is a factor," Pasco Sheriff Bob White said. "You've got majors, captains, colonels in the military fighting terrorism at 28."

Chianella said he will approach the office job the same way he approached dressing in tight shirts, baggy pants and beaded necklaces as an undercover state agent investigating rave dance parties.

"An investigation is an investigation," he said.

He said he's plenty experienced with investigations.

In Pasco, he oversees three investigators. They probe all formal complaints about sworn and civilian employees, then give their findings to higherups who take action. The employees are required to answer questions, and the investigations can result in discipline, not criminal charges.

Chianella never has been on the other side of such an investigation, he said. He can't find enough sentences in which to use the word "integrity."

He talks about integrity with an unwavering tone. He doesn't speak with his hands. He has tightly cropped brown hair and brown eyes. He declined a request to take his picture because he formerly worked undercover.

He was class president and a 1991 graduate of Hudson High School. The next year he started at the Sheriff's Office as a dispatcher. He became a crossing guard so he would have time for school.

He attended the law enforcement academy and took his first job offer from the Polk County Sheriff's Office. After seven months there, he spent three years with the Tampa Airport Police and the past five with the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, the agency that investigates beverage license and gambling violations, among other action. He climbed to lieutenant.

While White was a sergeant with the state alcohol and tobacco division, Chianella was one of his agents.

Now Chianella is moving back to Pasco with his wife, a Department of Environmental Protection agent, and their three shelties -- Skylar, Magnum and Reagan.

Word of Chianella's hire spread rapidly through the Sheriff's Office.

In an unusual move, Col. Al Nienhuis, the agency's No. 2 leader, sent a memo about Chianella's hiring that was distributed throughout the agency. It touted his eight years of law enforcement experience.

"(White) didn't want any type of rumors flying around," spokesman Kevin Doll said.

Chianella said he has nothing to say about rumors. He didn't seek this position. White said he wanted someone outside the agency and he sought out Chianella.

"The sheriff called and offered me the position about a month and a half ago. It really was out of the blue," said Chianella, who added that he didn't even know the position was open.

Chianella praises White a lot: "The best supervisor I've ever had. He's the most honest and loyal person I've ever met," he said during a Thursday interview with the Times.

"Probably if he wasn't sheriff, I wouldn't have gotten . . ."

Chianella stopped. And went back singing White's praises.

Chianella knocked on doors for White during the 2000 election and celebrated at the sheriff's election party.

Chianella got an early start on many things, and that included politics.

At 18, he wrote a letter to the editor of the Pasco Times blasting Democratic state Rep. Phil Miskin. "The liberal Democrats said we don't pay enough taxes, but we all know we are taxed out," he wrote.

At 19, he won the President's Award from the West Pasco Republican Club.

"I've known Brett since he was a young man -- well, he's a young man now -- since he was a teen," said state Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

Chianella said his political involvement died down after he moved out of Pasco in 1993. White, a Republican, said Chianella's hiring had nothing to do with politics. And Fasano said he had no influence on the decision.

"It had to be someone I trust implicitly," White said.

One characteristic about Chianella stuck with Fasano.

"He's a very serious young man," the representative said. "He takes everything very seriously."

There's nothing he takes more seriously than patriotism and law enforcement, Chianella said.

The patriotism: After White contacted him, Chianella submitted a three-page resume printed on paper with an American flag backdrop.

"That says a lot about me," Chianella said.

Chianella's grandfather served in World War II at Normandy. His father is an Army veteran. Chianella spent the past several months on active Coast Guard duty at MacDill Air Force Base.

The law enforcement: During Chianella's last stint with the Sheriff's Office he only had one hint of discipline on his record.

He got in trouble for wearing his crossing guard uniform after hours.

-- Ryan Davis is the police reporter in Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6245, or toll-free at 800-333-7505, ext. 6245. His e-mail address is rdavis@sptimes.com.

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