LEE COUNTY — A Lee County Sheriff’s Office lieutenant who was suspended and demoted this week is on the counteroffensive, via his lawyer.
Lt. Lee Bushong, former commander of the agency’s Intelligence Section, was stripped of his gun Wednesday and demoted from lieutenant after investigators substantiated a pair of complaints filed against him in early March, Bushong’s lawyer, Stuart M. Pepper, said Friday.
He plans to appeal the demotion unless reinstated, Pepper said.
“He wants his name cleared,” Pepper said. “He’s been wrongly (accused).”
Neither Pepper nor the Sheriff’s Office will describe the complaints against Bushong. Two allegations were made against him, Pepper said, and both were substantiated by a Sheriff’s Office investigator.
But because Bushong has yet to formally file an appeal, the case is still considered active and is not open to the public, said Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Schall.
Bushong, Pepper said, “is not being accused of dishonesty or corruption or any criminal act.”
Asked whether the charges involved Bushong’s former superior, Capt. Dominick Ferrante, who resigned amid allegations of misconduct, or Chief Deputy Charles Ferrante, who is also on suspended leave with pay pending an investigation, Pepper said he didn’t know. He and Bushong have only seen the allegations and the findings of the investigation, not the final report, he said.
“Something may or may not come out in a hearing,” he said.
Sheriff’s Office spokesman Larry King said the investigation into Bushong is not related to Dominick Ferrante.
Dominick Ferrante was commander of the Special Investigations Division, under which Bushong’s section falls. Ferrante resigned March 4 under allegations he threatened a fellow captain and then lied about it to superiors. Bushong’s name was mentioned in an e-mail involved in the back-and-forth between Ferrante and the other captain’s assistant.
Charles Ferrante, Dominick Ferrante’s brother, was suspended on March 9, the day he was to announce his retirement. Ferrante is accused of abusing his power when disciplining a forensics officer, Sgt. Ryan Bell.
Bell was to appeal his discipline in a March 11 civil service board hearing, but it was canceled after Ferrante was suspended.
Bushong’s appeal will also be handled through a civil service board hearing, a judicial proceeding in which a suspended or terminated employee appeals punishment to a five-person board. Few decisions are overturned.
Bushong has 14 days from Wednesday to file his appeal.
A former Marine officer, Bushong rose to his position after 10 years in the Sheriff’s Office. His section oversees intelligence on gangs, homeland security and terrorism. He supervises six employees, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Bushong’s personnel file is still being redacted by the agency, but Pepper said he has no prior disciplinary actions to his name.
The investigation, which began in the first two weeks of March, according to Pepper, came as a surprise.
“He was aware of what was happening to the Ferrantes. Who wasn’t?” Pepper said “... Then the other shoe dropped on him.”
Bushong’s message is simple, he said.
“Lee is still the same guy,” he said. “He didn’t do anything wrong.”