ABOVE: Former Mount Dora Police Chief Brett Meade (Mount Dora Buzz file photo)
It’s deja vu all over again. Last month, former Mount Dora Police Chief Brett Meade filed a lawsuit against the city claiming it violated the Florida Whistleblower’s Act. The lawsuit alleged Meade was effectively forced to resign due to the City Manager’s actions.
According to the lawsuit, the issue started in February, 2021, when Meade, who was Police Chief at the time, initiated two internal investigations into potential excessive force violations at Mount Dora Police Department (MDPD). Meade learned on March 14 that Mount Dora’s Human Resource Director, Sharon Kraynik, had contacted the Lake County Sheriff’s Office to investigate Meade and conduct the investigations into excessive force that Meade had initiated.
Meade, who served with the Orange County Sheriff's Office for over two decades, then advised Kraynik and Mount Dora City Manager Patrick Comiskey that Florida law didn’t allow third-party internal investigations of police officers, according to the suit. In various communications, Comiskey, Meade’s boss, advised Meade that an outside agency would indeed conduct the investigations and that Meade would not.
That procedural and legal disagreement was the crux of the issue between the two men. Meade sent his boss the Florida statute he believed supported his position; however, Comiskey advised he was relying on legal advice that contradicted Meade. Typically, the City Attorney, who is specifically hired to provide legal counsel, is relied upon by a City Manager and City Council for legal advice. According to email exchanges, Comiskey maintained his position and Meade eventually tendered his resignation on June 1, 2022. (See email timeline)
On August 23, 2022, almost a year after one of the alleged excessive-force incidents occurred and the media later exposed it, the City of Mount Dora finally commenced an investigation on the potential violations after hiring a retired Polk County Sheriff’s Office internal investigations supervisor to conduct the investigation. According to the City, the investigator has 24 years of experience performing internal investigations.
Meade has since become the Law Enforcement Outreach Coordinator for the University of Central Florida’s Restore program. He had served as the University’s Deputy Chief of Police in 2014 before retiring from that department in 2018. In 2020, Meade was hired as Mount Dora’s’ Interim Chief to help rebuild the frayed department, and he was eventually named the City’s Chief of Police in April 2021.
Meade’s service to the City came on the heels of a tumultuous period at Mount Dora Police Department after the departures of its former chiefs John O’Grady in 2019, and Robert Bell in 2020, as well as Assistant Chief Michael Fewless in 2020. O’Grady won a financial settlement from the City for roughly $64,000 for accrued sick time and vacation leave. Fewless filed a lawsuit against the City claiming a violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act and received in excess of $260,000 as part of his 2021 settlement.