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18-year sheriff's employee resigns

Sheriff Richard Nugent says the veteran officer resigned after a warning not to use his department cell phone for personal calls.

By JAMIE JONES

© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 17, 2001


BROOKSVILLE -- Capt. Ernie Stevens, an 18-year veteran of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, resigned Tuesday.

Stevens, who was in charge of court services, warrants and prisoner transport, cited "personal reasons" in a letter to the department.

Sheriff Richard Nugent said Stevens used a department cell phone to make personal calls. He said he talked to Stevens several weeks ago after seeing his $246 phone bill from July to August. The calls weren't work related, said Nugent, who declined to discuss details of the calls.

Stevens assured Nugent he would not continue making personal calls on his work phone, the sheriff said.

But recently, Nugent found a $272 phone bill that ended Sept. 25. Again, the calls were not work related, he said.

Nugent said on Monday he discussed with Stevens disciplinary options, including a demotion in rank.

Stevens went home to think about it. Tuesday morning, he turned in his resignation letter, Nugent said, effective immediately.

"One of the things I have to have is the utmost confidence that my staff will be totally forthcoming with me," Nugent said. "When I've given them direction to cease a certain activity, I have to know that they will do so."

Stevens couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday. Nugent said he had no prior problems with Stevens.

Stevens, 52, joined the department in 1983 as a corrections officer. He became captain of corrections in 1985. When the Sheriff's Office lost supervision of the jail in 1988, Stevens was transferred to judicial services. He worked for the detective division for a while and then returned to judicial services in 1994, where he had worked since. He supervised 21 deputies and eight civilians.

Nugent said his problem with Stevens had nothing to do with the evacuation of the Hernando County government center last week after powder was discovered in an envelope. The Sheriff's Office was criticized for not immediately calling the county's Emergency Management Office. The powder did not contain bacteria and was not anthrax.

Nugent said he probably will promote someone from within to fill Steven's position.

"I worked with Ernie for a lot of years and I think of him as a friend," Nugent said. "I hate to see him go."

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