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Forgery suspect dies in deputy's custody

A drug overdose is possible. Cocaine confiscated during the man's arrest is missing.

By ALEX LEARY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 15, 2003


NEW PORT RICHEY -- A man arrested on forgery charges Monday died after possibly eating cocaine seized during his arrest, authorities said.

The man's name had not been released as of Monday evening because his family had not been notified.

He was arrested about 12:30 p.m. at Bank of America on Embassy Road, Port Richey, for using forged documents, according to a Pasco County Sheriff's Office news release. Deputies then discovered he had an undisclosed amount of cocaine, the release said.

He was taken to the sheriff's West Operations Center in New Port Richey about 1 p.m. and placed in an interview room with the arresting deputy, Paul Slater.

What happened next is unclear.

Slater did not see the suspect ingest the cocaine, if he did, sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll said. But the evidence is missing, and investigators think the man might have eaten it.

Although Doll said the cocaine was taken from the man, the sheriff's spokesman would not say what happened to it next, citing the ongoing investigation.

The man had a seizure about 2 p.m. and died after emergency workers took him to Morton Plant North Bay Hospital.

Slater, 47, who has been with the Sheriff's Office since November 2000, was placed on paid administrative leave.

Doll said the decision had to do with the stress Slater might feel in having a suspect die in his custody. Whether Slater followed correct procedure will be determined by the investigation, Doll said.

Deputies are required to follow strict handling guidelines for evidence -- including that it be clearly labeled, packaged and that a "chain of custody" is maintained "so we know who has it at what time," Doll said.

"There are a number of unanswered questions we are looking into," Doll said.

-- Alex Leary can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6247, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6247. His e-mail address is leary@sptimes.com .

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