Former HCSO Sergeant Says Firing is “Retaliation” Cleared by FDLE in Fatal Shooting
HERNANDO – Stories of officer involved shootings have become common place with most news organizations and probably rank in the top five daily headlines, alongside Russia-Trump, terror attacks, healthcare and North Korea’s “weekly” missile tests. Regardless of the circumstances, when news of a lost loved one reaches the doorsteps of unsuspecting family, a tidal wave of grief, confusion and anger often overwhelm survivors.
Hernando County is no stranger to shootings that involve Law Enforcement Officers and like the majority of cases around the country, incidents are almost always ruled justified by the investigating agency, e.g., The Florida Department of Law Enforcement. But there are occasions when an officer’s actions are brought into question and in those cases the officer can face criminal charges or other disciplinary action. To the surprise of one former Hernando County Sheriff’s Sergeant Deputy, an apparent “suicide by cop” incident that occurred last year led to her termination from the agency, despite being cleared of any wrongdoing by the FDLE.
On September 15, 2016 Deputy James Devorak and then-Sgt. Gisele Dunn shot and killed 69-year-old Joseph Schlosser inside his home on Ridge Top Loop in Weeki Wachee. In accordance with agency policy, Dunn and Devorak were placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of the investigation.
According to officials, Deputy Devorak was the first to arrive at Mr. Schlosser’s home located at 10264 Ridge Top Loop around 1:00 p.m. that afternoon. Mr. Schlosser’s nurse, Lisa Pedone, called 911 over concerns that Mr. Schlosser might be suicidal and possibly experiencing a stroke. She also stated that he was crying and writing on a notepad, which was later determined to be a suicide note.
While other deputies, including Sgt. Gisele Dunn were still en route to the scene, Dep. Devorak had already entered the home and was negotiating with Mr. Schlosser on his lanai. During their conversation, Mr. Schlosser revealed a holstered handgun from his lap and placed it on the table – keeping it within reach. By that time, Sgt. Dunn had arrived on scene and was approaching the lanai with a less than lethal shotgun. To her surprise, Sgt. Dunn observed Dep. Devorak sitting in close proximity to an armed and suicidal Schlosser. After several commands to back away from the firearm, Mr. Schlosser grabbed the handgun, pointed it at Sgt. Dunn, and then back at Dep. Devorak. Sgt. Dunn fired two beanbag round, striking Mr. Schlosser in the thigh and abdomen. Mr. Schlosser was unfazed by non-lethal rounds and continued to threaten Sgt. Dunn and Dep Devorak, leaving them with no choice but to use lethal force. Sgt. Dunn and Dep. Devorak fired several rounds at Mr. Schlosser which led to his death. CLICK HERE FOR AUDIO
As expected, investigations by the State Attorney’s Office and the FDLE Cleared Sgt. Dunn and Dep. Devorak of any wrongdoing, due to Mr. Schlosser’s intentions to commit “suicide by cop.” But for Sgt. Dunn the case didn’t come to a close; in fact, in December of last year the Sheriff’s Office opened an Internal Affairs Investigation into Sgt. Dunn’s actions, and on June 20th of this year she was terminated from the agency.
Shocked and angered by the unexpected decision, Dunn contacted RNRF to share her side of the story and she says legal action against the Sheriff’s Office for wrongful termination is not off the table.
Chief Deputy, Col. Michael Maurer issued a memo to Sheriff Al Nienhuis on June 20th, recommending Dunn be terminated for violating agency policies under Use of Control, Discretion of Sworn Personnel, and Supervisory Responsibility. To summarize the allegations, Col. Maurer found that “Sgt. Dunn was clearly not in control of the event from the start. She admits she didn’t realize where personnel were positioned nor even who was on scene…” Col. Maurer goes on to say, “She was fixated on misinformation and was experiencing a severe episode of ‘tunnel vision.’” Col. Maurer continues, “She proved that she lacks the capacity to take responsibility for her conduct and actions. These are not acceptable actions of a Deputy Sheriff, particularly a Supervisor.”
After an interview with Mrs. Dunn, reviewing the I.A. and FDLE reports, we submitted a few questions to the Sheriff’s Office for clarification. In an email we asked, “Dunn points out that while Mr. Schlosser was armed with a handgun, Devorak sat down and had a conversation with him. And at one point turns his back on the suspect to retrieve a glass of water for him. Dunn says, and with all due respect to Dep. Devorak, he violated several standards and placed his life at risk. Did Devorak violate any procedures by entering a home that he knew a suicidal subject was armed and could possibly be establishing a ‘suicide by cop’ scenario?” Public Information Officer Denise Moloney responded to that and other questions by stating, “We would recommend that you read the entire IA investigation before you write a story based upon Mrs. Dunn’s recollection of events.” Mrs. Dunn says she doesn’t place blame on Dep. Devorak for the chain of events that day but she questions why, at the very least, he wasn’t reprimanded for putting their lives in jeopardy by sitting down with an armed, suicidal man.
The I.A. Investigation concluded, and the State Attorney’s Office concurred, that Schlosser had been suffering from depression for some time and that his suicide note, coupled with his actions that day, led one to believe that his actions could be characterized as “suicide by cop.” Even Schlosser’s wife, Laurie Tyszko told investigators, “…Schlosser may have committed or even planned a “suicide by cop scenario rather than commit the act of shooting himself.” She apologized to the deputies for her husband “creating a scenario that led to the deputies taking a human life.”
During an FDLE interview, Dep. Devorak tells investigators that Schlosser asks, “Will you get me a soda out of the refrigerator?” Devorak got up from his chair, walked over to the refrigerator and retrieved a Sprite for Mr. Schlosser. Dunn says she was shocked when she found out that Dep. Devorak had turned his back on an armed and unstable subject. Even Devorak states in this testimony, “All I though was I was getting shot. I swear to God, I was like oh my God, I’m gonna get shot.”
Prior to the fatal shots being fired, Mr. Schlosser points his firearm in Dunn’s direction, then leans over to Dep. Devorak and says, “I’m not going to hurt you…” Dep. Devorak says that’s when he feared that Mr. Schlosser was going to shoot Dunn.
It should be noted that Mr. Schlosser was an avid gun collector and he had positioned a high-powered Gatling Gun in the foyer, pointed towards the front door. Dunn and Dep. Devorak both feared that if Mr. Schlosser were to gain access to that weapon he could injure or kill deputies and Fire Rescue personnel staging outside the residence.
Dunn says, “I know that Dep. Devorak’s intentions were good and pure; he was just trying to peacefully negotiate. He is a kind, caring person, and he would give the shirt off his back to a complete stranger. But, in this case, I think his desire to help counsel a suicidal man blinded him to danger.”
Dunn says in her 16 years with the Sheriff’s Office she can only recall receiving 3 to 4 written reprimands over issues between her and other deputies.
I asked Dunn why she thinks the Sheriff’s Office chose to terminate her and she said, “Retaliation for previously complaining about a hostile work environment.” Turns out, through our investigation we learned of a possible EEOC complaint filed by Mrs. Dunn in 2007 that led to a federal lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office. There are also unconfirmed reports that a settelemnt was reached between Dunn and the Sheriff’s Office. Dunn was unable to comment on the case due to a Gag order issued by a Judge.
Laurie Tyszko told RNRF that she now plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office.
The Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on any potential lawsuits filed by Mrs. Tyszko or Mrs. Dunn.
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