WINTER PARK, Fla. — 9 Investigates has learned that well before Winter Park leaders selected Michael Deal as police chief, they were warned about claims of harassment and questions about character involving Deal and his wife.
WFTV reported first last week that FDLE investigated and then cleared Deal of any statute violations after an Altamonte Springs officer claimed he was intimidated during a conversation with Deal’s wife following a crash.
Ray has now learned through a records request that the Deal’s former neighbors claimed the couple was harassing and stalking them, and that Winter Park city leaders knew about the longstanding dispute prior to making the hire.
The contentious neighbor relationship led to multiple calls for service, incident reports and claims of harassment.
The next-door neighbor detailed in a 40-page packet for Winter Park that “Ms. Deal would take videos and pictures of our home, and even inside the home.”
That neighbor went on to claim that “Chief Deal and his wife interfered with the administration of first aid” to the neighbor’s husband during an incident with emergency medical services, writing, “Considering these factors, Mr. and Mrs. Deal’s alleged behavior… is and has been harassing, defaming, and according to statute, consistent with stalking.”
Those allegations were sent to the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, but no investigation was completed, because it was deemed a civil issue.
“You have to make sure this isn't something you may have overlooked about the chief,” law enforcement expert and former police chief Chuck Drago said. “The case may be nothing, but you have to at least look into it, even if you've already announced him.”
An attorney for the neighbors even requested an internal investigation at Deal’s former agency, Altamonte Springs, after discovering through a records request that their license plates were run through a state database by an officer on a day they claim they were at home, outside of city limits.
Investigators found no connection to Deal in that internal affairs inquiry, and the officer who ran the plate was also cleared of any wrongdoing.
Deal was not the first choice for the job in Winter Park, but received an offer from the city after the first choice turned it down. When WFTV asked whether the neighbors’ concerns about the Deals were considered during the hiring process, we were told the dispute was isolated and the sentiments about the Deals were not shared by other neighbors or references.
“In general, the police chief has got to be squeaky clean, they have to set that example from the police officers,” Drago said.
Deal declined a request for an interview. Wednesday, he was given a written reprimand for the incident in Altamonte Springs that led to the FDLE investigation.
“Chief Deal came highly recommended by his former employers. His references were strong and he was described as a man of integrity,” City Manager Randy Knight said in a statement.
“Chief Deal is a tremendous asset to the City of Winter Park serving as our Police Chief. Under his leadership, he strengthened the agency’s philosophy to be more community-minded and encourages his officers to increase their interactions with the public in a positive way. While I am disappointed that this incident in his personal life crossed over into his professional life, I support Chief Deal and appreciate the work he is doing for our city.”
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