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Manager responds to police bias allegations

By ANNE LINDBERG

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 9, 2000


PINELLAS PARK -- In an attempt to soothe a wife who alleged that police harassment and retaliation extend to officers' families, the city manager wants to assure her that neither exist in the department.

In a letter to Deborah Prichard, the wife of Pinellas Park police Officer Charles Prichard, Jerry Mudd also promised her that officials are notmonitoring or tracing city government phone calls.

Officer Prichard is one of two male police officers who have filed union grievances alleging that they and others are on an upper management "hit list."

Mrs. Prichard, fed up with department problems, has added her complaints to the mix. In letters to Mudd, she has said that she also is a victim of departmental bias and unfair treatment.

Among other things, Mrs. Prichard claims she was wrongly suspected of being an anonymous caller to the Meet Your Mayor and Council call-in show.

The caller blasted Mayor Bill Mischler for doing nothing about Capt. Bob Hempel, the department's second in command. Hempel, the caller said, had been accused of beating his wife. Hempel was the subject of a sheriff's investigation, but the state attorney declined to file charges. Both Capt. and Mrs. Hempel deny he abused her.

Rather than dealing directly with Mrs. Prichard's charge that she had been suspected unjustly of being the caller, Mudd chose to explain the city's phone system.

At the time of the call, Mudd wrote, the city could trace incoming phone calls. The one in question came from a phone with a block on it. Since then, Mudd said, the block has been removed from that line and no wire tap or any other form of listening device is now being used on the city's phone system.

Mrs. Prichard also accused a Pinellas Park police sergeant of overriding an investigative officer's conclusion that allegations she had committed child abuse while on her job were unfounded. The effect was to have the file forwarded to the State Attorney's Office for investigation and the temporary loss of her job and income.

Although Mrs. Prichard was cleared of the allegations, she said she lost her job at the Center Against Spouse Abuse after she complained about the sergeant's actions.

Mudd responded merely that he understood the situation must have been trying for her.

"However, it appears that the incident was handled appropriately by the city's Police Department," Mudd wrote.

Mrs. Prichard could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Mudd said Tuesday that although he might have dealt with Mrs. Prichard's concerns about her job in few words, he did investigate her claims. Police Chief David Milchan sent him a memo and he also had a memo from the sergeant, he said.

"That's pretty much what I have to make that judgment on," Mudd said.

The city manager declined to rule out the possibility that Mrs. Prichard's claims may be investigated further. Mudd wants the council to hire a retired judge to look into the allegations of a hit list and some other matters. One of those could be Mrs. Prichard's letters.

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