New Port Richey Chief Kim Bogart denies favoritism in Port Richey manager's DUI case

4:57 PM, Aug 30, 2013   |    comments
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Video: Police deny favoritism in city manager DUI case

Dash Cam video of Port Richey's City Manager, Tom O'Neill, caused the New Port Richey Chief of Police to re-open the case from the night he was possibly intoxicated behind the wheel, but not issued a DUI.

 

New Port Richey, FL -- New Port Richey's police chief is denying there was any favoritism shown the night one of his officers found Port Richey's city manager slumped behind the wheel of his SUV.

Port Richey City Manager Tom O'Neill was allowed to go to the hospital rather than undergo a field sobriety test.

But the Pasco State Attorney has since stepped in and found O'Neill's blood alcohol level was more than four times the legal limit that night.

So did O'Neill get special treatment?

O'Neill -- who is also the former city manager in New Port Richey -- was not at Port Richey City Hall on Friday. We're told a dental appointment kept him out of the office.

But the DUI case against O'Neill is now moving forward, despite what appeared to arguably be special treatment the night of the incident.

"I don't think on the part of Corporal Phillips or our department that there was any degree of favoritism," said New Port Richey Chief Kim Bogart.

Chief Kim Bogart says Corporal Will Phillips, the officer who came upon Tom O'Neill's car the night of July 13, will not be disciplined.

But Chief Bogart concedes mistakes were made.

"In retrospect, was there more that he could do? Absolutely," said Chief Bogart.

More, such as performing a field sobriety test. Or if O'Neill's symptoms necessitated immediate transportation to a hospital, at least following up to check his blood alcohol level once he arrived for treatment.

Dash-cam video from that night shows O'Neill's vehicle was idling on the side of the road in neutral. The call came into the police department as a welfare check. A concerned citizen had noticed the SUV running with O'Neill still inside.

Later, officers carried O'Neill from the vehicle as he repeatedly stated, "I'm fine."

Corporal Phillips' police report says O'Neill had "watery, blood-shot eyes, a dazed expression, slurred speech and the smell of alcohol."

Yet O'Neill was never given a field sobriety test.

That may be, in part, because Port Richey's police Chief Dave Brown -- a personal friend of O'Neill -- showed up at the scene and told everyone O'Neill had medical issues.

"I don't believe I influenced anyone's investigation. I don't believe I influenced his report," said Brown in an interview last month.

Still, emergency workers then decided to transport O'Neill to the hospital right away.

Chief Brown didn't return calls on Friday, but at the time he conceded, "It looks bad. And I agree with that. It does look bad."

Asked about Brown's potential influence, Chief Bogart said, "He didn't give direction to my officer to handle the case any differently or do anything differently... but I believe the chief's presence there, I believe was a degree of influence."

"It wasn't exactly a passive role the chief took," added Chief Bogart.

Corporal Phillips still should have pursued the DUI case, says Bogart, requesting a blood test from the hospital.

But with no accident and no injury involved, he simply didn't. It's a policy the chief says will now change.

The State Attorney did follow-up, and on Thursday issued O'Neill a misdemeanor DUI citation.

In it, it notes O'Neill's blood alcohol content as .367, four times the legal limit. It's also one of the highest Chief Bogart says he's has seen in his career.

"He could have gone into a coma, or had a heart attack. He could have died," said Chief Bogart.

O'Neill is scheduled to make a court appearance on September 12.  He did not return our repeated calls on Friday.

There is no word yet from Port Richey city leaders about whether they plan to take any disciplinary action against O'Neill or Police Chief Brown.

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