Submitted by: Dawn Jaglowski, Investigative Reporter, Suncoast Standard
Deputy Heather Cogar, who was fired for a domestic battery arrest in December of 2016 was vindicated in court on March 24, 2017. The charge against Cogar was dismissed for lack of evidence by the State Attorney’s Office. The alleged victim in the case, a fellow deputy with the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office, was determined to be unreliable after inconsistent statements were made by the deputy during the original 911 call.
On January 12, 2017, the Career Services Board voted 5-0 that Ms. Cogar did not throw a gun in the home that Deputy Brian Hesse and Ms. Cogar once shared. The vote on the criminal battery charge was left to the courts to decide, while the charge of conduct unbecoming an officer was voted in Cogar’s favor 4-1. It was determined by newly-elected Sheriff Prendergast that Ms. Cogar could return to the department, however, she would not return as a deputy. Rather, Ms. Cogar is now training for a dispatch position.
“The State Attorney’s determination in this matter does not alter my decision on previously sustained violations for Violation of SOP 108.00; Improper Conduct, Conduct Unbecoming,” said Sheriff Mike Prendergast. “It is in the best interest of this agency to allow Heather Cogar to continue her training as a Communications Officer while getting the help she needs to be successful here in our organization and in life.”
Normally, this story would end here. However, information has come to light exposing how Ms. Cogar has been mistreated, inconsistencies in the investigation have been discovered, and the subsequent failure of the Sheriff’s administration to properly admonish or investigate all parties involved. Questions concerning the actions and emotional state of the alleged victim at the time of the incident have been raised, as well. Ms. Cogar was demoted for conduct unbecoming an officer, yet the charges she was facing have now been dismissed.
According to documents sent to the State’s Attorney’s office by Ms. Cogar’s attorney, Steve Romine, Deputy Hesse initially refused to speak to the first responding officer to arrive shortly after 3 AM on the night of December 10th. Hesse reluctantly made a statement to the supervisor in charge at the scene that Cogar hit him three times in the leg and that she threw his service weapon across a room. Then he refused to speak any further. This directly contradicts Hesse’s 911 call, in which he told dispatchers there was no violence and no weapons involved. According to Attorney Romine’s documents, the Sergeant removed Hesse’s weapons from his custody that night, due to safety concerns after viewing his behavior and learning from Hesse he was under the influence of alcohol.
Cogar’s attorney, Steve Romine, said in an interview with the Standard, “The allegations against my client were based on the false claim of battery, and a false claim of throwing a gun which were rejected by the Career Services Board. These two allegations made up the conduct unbecoming an officer charge sustained by the Sheriff, but were unsubstantiated by the CSB. It’s inexplicable they are using the conclusions of two allegations that were determined unsubstantiated by the CSB, Sheriff Mike Prendergast, as well as the State’s Attorney’s office in upholding the conduct unbecoming an officer charge.”
Deputy Brian Hesse and Ms. Cogar are prohibited from speaking to the media under the general rules of employment at the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office. Even though the Standard was unable to directly question the parties involved, our research has discovered a lack of equal treatment in the process, a potential hostile work environment, and internal orders that prohibit active employees of the CCSO to directly share with media outlets concerns they have about the Department they serve.
Statement from Citrus County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer, Heather Yates received by the Standard on Apr. 7, 2017, “there are no verbal or written rules prohibiting an employee from speaking to the media.”