Fired Mount Dora deputy police chief files whistleblower complaint

Video: Fired Mount Dora deputy police chief files whistleblower complaint

MOUNT DORA, Fla. — 9 Investigates is reporting ongoing turmoil within the Mount Dora Police Department tied to the retirement of its last chief of police.

Channel 9 investigative reporter Karla Ray broke the news in July that then-Chief Robert Bell was stepping down after less than a year on the job and just weeks after complaints were filed against him both anonymously and by his command staff.

Deputy Chief Michael Fewless, who submitted some of those complaints, was fired just days later. 9 Investigates asked the city manager and mayor about his firing last month, and at the time they insisted it had nothing to do with his complaints about Bell.

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Now, he’s fighting to get his job back via a whistleblower complaint.

Michael Fewless was once chief of Fruitland Park Police, and had a long law enforcement career prior to his firing from the position of deputy chief in Mount Dora last month.

Records show he was fired on July 21 for speaking to a member of the media without permission, the very same day he sent an email to the city manager reiterating details about a “complaint made by the entire command staff regarding the actions of Chief Bell.”

Fewless writes in the email, “Following the original complaint you had additional meetings with us, and we were informed that we needed to keep the contents of the complaint silent.”

“I’ve never seen such close temporal proximity for a whistleblower,” Fewless’ attorney, Ryan Andrews, said. “It’s gone too far than it should have, I think they have a small window to try to get it resolved with Mr. Fewless before it’s going to be an embarrassingly large claim they have to pay.”

9 Investigates asked the city for copies of the command staff complaint the day after Fewless’ firing back in July, but we were only given copies of “anonymous” letters alleging the now-retired chief was creating a hostile work environment, and threatening personnel with litigation and discipline if they spoke about his perceived relationship with a subordinate officer.

Days after receiving those records, we asked the city manager and mayor on camera whether Fewless’ firing had anything to do with him filing complaints against the chief.

“No, he violated a city policy, and I’m going to say more importantly he violated the city charter,” City Manager Robin Hayes said.

Video: Mount Dora police chief retires after allegations of hostile work environment, inappropriate relationship surface