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Sheriff Manfre Fires David O’Brien 2 Months After Short-Listing Him for Undersheriff

| March 6, 2013

 David O'Brien spent the last 29 years at the Flagler County Sheriff's Office. (© FlaglerLive)

David O’Brien spent the last 29 years at the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office. (© FlaglerLive)

Last Updated: 6:11 p.m.

Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre this morning fired David O’Brien, his senior commander and the sheriff’s office’s former chief deputy.

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It was a stunning turnaround for O’Brien, 49, who was appointed Manfre’s chief deputy during Manfre’s first tenure as Flagler County Sheriff a decade ago–a position he again rose to under ex-Sheriff Don Fleming, after he was exiled to the county’s west side–and who was one of two candidates Manfre had short-listed in December to be his undersheriff. Until then, Manfre spoke of O’Brien in glowing terms. O’Brien had also helped Manfre through the transition before and after the election. Manfre finally opted to name fellow-Rotarian Rick Staly as his undersheriff.

O’Brien’s firing is the latest shock to roil the agency since Manfre took over: within hours of his first day, he had fired two long-standing senior officers (then-Majors Steve Clair and John Plummer), demoted a slew of others and shuffled yet others to different jobs, some of which were not demotions but felt like it, because of the nature of the job. (An administrative grievance Clair filed to contest the firing was recently dismissed. But other grievances have been filed, including by deputies Gerald Ditolla and Jamie Roster).

“We haven’t fired him yet,” Manfre said this afternoon of O’Brien. “He’s on administrative leave at this point, and he’s making a decision that he has to make.” But in effect, O’Brien was fired: he is determining whether to accept retirement, as was the case with Plummer’s firing, or to go the route of being fired outright. Plummer was older, and his career in its sunset. O’Brien’s career is in its prime. He could not be reached Wednesday afternoon.

[March 8 update: O’Brien opted for the retirement option, sending in his retirement letter to the sheriff’s office Friday morning. The letter read, in part: “It is with a heavy heart that I have made the decision to retire from the Flagler County Sherriff’s office effective Friday March 8, 2013.” See the full letter below.]

Manfre was asked what prompted the swift turn-around of his opinion of O’Brien. “During the transition period we’d gotten a lot of feedback from inside the agency that David was not effective as a leader,” Manfre said. “The mitigating factor was that he’d worked for me before and I gave him an opportunity to show me that those criticisms of him were incorrect. What I found out was that those criticisms were spot on.”

Jim Manfre. (© FlaglerLive)

Jim Manfre. (© FlaglerLive)

Manfre cited one specific, immediate example that he said was “the final straw.” On Tuesday, sheriff’s deputies served a warrant between 3:30 and 4 p.m. in western Flagler County on a key drug case, after holding a briefing at 3 p.m. At 1 p.m. O’Brien left a message on Staly’s phone. The two men spoke at 2 p.m., when O’Brien, according to the sheriff, said he was going home, for being tired.

The incident, Manfre said, summed up administrative shortcomings that were detailed in two memos, totaling seven pages of single-spaced type, by Rick Staly, outlining numerous issues with O’Brien’s performance dating back to the transition period, before Jan. 8. One is a Feb. 15 performance review addressed to O’Brien. The other is a March 5 memo to Manfre that recommends his firing.

O’Brien, in a brief interview late this afternoon, spoke only graciously of his years with the sheriff’s office and his colleagues there, and pointedly declined to criticize Manfre or discuss the firing or the two memos.

“It’s been an honor, a great honor for me to be able to protect the people of Flagler County for the last 29 years,” O’Brien said. “I look forward to the next chapter in my career, and whatever that holds, public service is something I admire and I respect.” He said he hopes to remain in the county as a public servant in one capacity or another.

O’Brien added: “I’ve served under four sheriffs, and I understand that those who are in my industry are always subject to the political arena. I admire the people that I’ve worked for and with for 29 years. I formed great relationships with men and women within the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, and I will continue to be friends with them.”

By late afternoon, the sheriff’s office was releasing copies of the two memos to all local media. Absent an examination of O’Brien’s personnel file covering the last 29 years (the file has been requested but won’t likely be available until Thursday), the Feb. 15 and March 5 memos were sharper reflections of the new administration’s philosophy, management style and expectations rather than a judgment on that career. As such, they may well reflect the sheriff’s and Staly’s distinctly more severe, and less compromising, approach than under the previous sheriff.

Rick Staly. (© FlaglerLive)

Rick Staly. (© FlaglerLive)

“While Sr. Cmdr. O’Brien has shown some improvement in some areas such as notifications and response,” Staly wrote in the March 5 memo, “he continues to miss deadlines and does not seem to comprehend the urgency of assignments and agency needs and expectations. The quality of his work product is substandard and unacceptable and does not meet expectations of individuals at the executive staff level.”

Staly concludes: “I have directly supervised Cmdr. O’Brien for almost sixty days and it has become obvious that he is either incapable or unwilling to perform at the executive level. As such, I recommend his appointed position as Sr. Commander is revoked immediately. I further recommend that the Sr. Commander position be eliminated and replaced with a commander position.”

Lt. Paul Bovino was appointed interim commander at the head of the patrol division. Bovino, formerly a captain, was among the individuals demoted a few weeks ago. He commands the SWAT team. “He is just someone who is talented and who is a rising star,” Manfre said. “We’ll see how he performs as the interim, then we’ll make a decision.”

Manfre insisted that there was nothing political about the firing, and pointed to Bovino’s appointment, saying Bovino had not supported him during the recent election (Bovino remains neutral in political races).

Staly’s memos are nevertheless at odds with at least one aspect of O’Brien’s tenure: his previous rise under Manfre. Why the contradiction? “I guess eight years under the former sheriff,” Manfre said.

Staly’s issues with O’Brien focused on managerial matters, which suggests that O’Brien could have been returned to a non-managerial position, as is often the practice with employees who fall short of a new management team’s expectations. That was, in fact, briefly considered. But Manfre finally ruled against it. “The higher up you go, there is really no turning back,” Manfre said. “He’d been the chief deputy and the senior commander. To demote him to another position at this point would have been counter-productive for the agency.” Manfre went on to personalize the firing: “It’s not only difficult because I had a relationship with David but because I had a relationship with his wife as well,” he said, referring to Milissa Holland, the former county commissioner. “This is certainly not a political move. This is a performance move.”

David O'Brien, saluting next to Flagler County Circuit Judge Dennis Craig, during Sheriff Manfre's swearing-in last January. Staly is in the foreground, to the right. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

David O’Brien, saluting next to Flagler County Circuit Judge Dennis Craig, during Sheriff Manfre’s swearing-in last January. Staly is in the foreground, to the right. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

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51 Responses for “Sheriff Manfre Fires David O’Brien 2 Months After Short-Listing Him for Undersheriff”

  1. Frank says:

    Thank you Sheriff Manfre, This was a spot on decision. FCSO got stronger today!

  2. Magicone says:

    With all the Firing, shuffleing and demoting that has been going on, you would think that Manfre would put a deputy in the Wal-Mart parking lot to issue tickets to all the illegal left turn violators. I almost got hit pulling out of Steak & Sheak. This has been an ongoing violation since the city changed the exit 3 months ago. I sat there yesterday and watched 18 illegal turns in a 20 minute period. The deputies are not writing red light or speeding violations, they need to put a stop to this illegal turn or they are going to have a fatality right in front of Wal-Mart !!!

    • Ben Dover says:

      @ Madicone, That island they put therte across from steak n shake is stupid, as stupid as taking away the left hand turn leaving walmart by the garden center, gas is not cheap , they want you to go way out of your way in both places to get out of the freakin parking lot, I don tr even know where your supposed to get out now, prolly all the way at the other end of the parking lot down near Carrabba`s , the stupidity of this city planner just keeps showing thru, where the hell do they expect all the traffic to go when the wioden the bride over 95, another retarded move by these boneheads, they`ll spenmd millions and jack up our water bills on future growth that may never happen. b ut they couldn t have the common sense to make bridge wider when they redid it last time, just like moving the side walk on Belle Terre 3 times then built another on other side anyway,………..Dept of Greed, Stupidity , Waste,and Deception, that`s what the sign on the Counsels , City planners, and Mayors office doors should say, they are all pathetic!!!!!

  3. Robert Lewis says:

    If this is not a case of a screw over if I have ever seen one.

  4. Jill says:

    Deja vue all over. Weren’t we here 10 years ago with this crap.

    So, let me get this straight James – you hired this man as Senior Commander knowing full well he was deficient but decided to give him a chance by having Undersheiff Staly watch and record O’Briens every move. Either something stinks here or you’re a cold blooded sap sucker. This is not the Oval office.

  5. Tori Holman says:

    Hey Manfre, why don’t you show his perfectly clean record from the agency up until YOU came into office again, seriously karma is gonna come back and bite you in the butt sir. I can not wait until everyone realizes you’re still the same horrible man as you were 10 years ago and vote you out again. This is pitiful.

  6. biker says:

    Ouch!! That is a stinging review that Staly gave Dave. Litigation involving a Manfre administration?? Wow this really is deja vue

  7. bq says:

    absolute power corrupts! Here we go again!

  8. confidential says:

    If we leave our jobs post in the middle of the day because “we feel tired” and leave customers hanging, for sure we will be fired too.
    Law enforcement is not just any kind of job to the contrary, is a very sensitive occupation that requires our officers “just to be there when needed”.
    Maybe Officer O’Brien was looking for retirement after not given the second in command post. I could understand that. Or maybe he has some outside offer he can’t refuse, that justifies his behavior. Hope is one of these two. Whatever the reason for his departure, I wish Chief O’Brien success in his endeavors.

  9. gator says:

    thank you, about time, I could name a few others that needs to go….We need police officers that want to work and serve. not just a name and job. to look good , power…
    way to go…..

  10. Flagler chevy says:

    It’s a damn shame when the citizens of a county feel that the police are the “bad guys”. Cops are here to protect, not turn a profit for the agengy they serve, and that’s what it’s all about with Manfre!! He shoulda got a job as a pencil pusher for some big corporate company and left the police work for a real officer.

  11. tim g says:

    I cant’t believe the citizens voted for Manfre. He is a nasty man, I know him personally. Can he be recalled?

  12. kenan Dickson says:

    When strenthing an organization, it takes changes; that can be of the most difficult. Putting friendships asside to excel the performace is a true profesional and great leader. Thank you Sherriff Manfre. I can only imagine how difficult that was for you. Mr. O’brien with well respect best of wishes. “Graciously” Noted .On that note may it be an asset in your next venture.

  13. Ben Dover says:

    I wanna know what Manfre is doing about the deputy that killed that poor old man on 100 last month , like I said he`ll sweep that under the carpet , we voted his corrupt ass out once , and people forgot what he was , now we`ll have to get rid of this whack job again,,

  14. thinkforyourself says:

    Very sad! 29 years of service and GONE! Manfre used him to do his dirty work on Claire and others. He’s got stellar reviews, rises to the ranks of undersheriff, survives multiple elections and administrators and in 2 months it’s decided he has to go??? Where’s the due process? Why not put him on a 60 day probation with an improvement plan unless this was about getting rid of him. Sounds like an insecure administration who felt threatened by O’Brien. This isn’t leadership. It’s fear based decision making.

    • Ben Dover says:

      @Think for yourself, it sounds to me like Staly just didn t like OBrien,, and he`s Manfre`s friend , you`d think Manfre would be able to seperate friendship and the job , he accused the former sheriff of not doing it on the Fischer case , then he turns around and pulls this high school like nonsense of firing a man after 29 yrs on the job because his frien d can t get along with him, its so stupid, he also has totally ignored the issue of the deputy running into and taking the life of a citizen , have not heard him address the issue once, can you imagine how much his mouth would be running if it had happened on Fleming`s watch , you wouldn t be able to shut him up, so much for him not letting friendship interfere with his command Hypocrite!!!

  15. confidential says:

    Tim…I have known Sheriff Manfre for many years as an honest professional, outstanding family man and community contributor being a Rotary member and in other organizations.
    Just look at his children school outstanding performance, highlighting their father credentials. This electorate have chosen the best man for current FCSO and will do it again in four years!

    • Nancy N. says:

      Did you honestly just say that Mr Manfre is qualified to be Sheriff because his children do well in school?

      Maybe next time around we should just skip all the talk about actual law enforcement experience and just have all the Sheriff’s candidates submit their kids’ report cards so we can vote for whoever has the highest GPA?

    • Ben Dover says:

      @confidential, don t count on it, people are starting to remember why they got rid of him last time, he will be lucky to make it for this term , we certainly won t make the same mistake, at least I hope not , I didn t vote for him, he got caught doing something underhanded last time, something to do with keeping money that wasn t his, will have to research it , funds for his campaign , lor something like that

  16. Girl says:

    Oh here we go again – cleaning house – everyone said he was going to do it – just didn’t think it would be so fast… He is cleaning anyone who did not support him except OBrien – he did his dirty work and thought he was safe – guess not, now that his wife lost her bid he doesn’t need either one of them. Rummor mill said from the start he was next – Staley the real person in charge – did not love, like or have any need for him, it was just a matter of time – As far as the two Major’s, Clair and Plummer, years of loyal & much experience service to citizens – guess it was the wrong party affilication.. Clair’s grievance dissmissed – think not – was not given enough time to process & it was it was an automatic dismissal – New Sheriff seems not to know the procedure or just doesn’t care – as he is the SHERIFF,

  17. JR says:

    I would go home too if I was followed, hounded, pressured and micro managed by Staly. Yes, it is a management decision by Manfre, which at times can be ruthless.It also shows a deep flaw and understanding with Manfre’s selection and decision making. It is Deja vue all over from his very first administration and bodes poorly on not only his selections but ill devised management decisions. Like the article hints and stinks at – why pick someone who has deficiencies unless it is to use them for ulterior motives. Deputy O’Brien saw the writing on the wall. Sometimes making a decision during these difficult times is very stressful. I can understand the humiliation for him and Melissa in this difficult time. But, you know what, the Sun will rise again and you and Melissa will get over this and be better for it. Good things will come your way. Stay strong as one retired LE to another.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Dave O’Brien for Sheriff in 4 years!!!

  19. Dennis says:

    I’m a little confused here. Commander O’Brien served under Sheriff Manfre during his last term in office and was a shining star. So much so that he was considered for the undersheriff position this time around. Now suddenly, O’Brien is an ineffective leader. O’Brien has served Flagler county for 29 years under four elected sheriff’s and is suddenly now ineffective. Sheriff Manfre speculates O’Brien became ineffective after serving eight years under Sheriff Fleming. So we are all to assume that any future problems the sheriff’s office has are the results of Sheriff Fleming having served two terms. Did Sheriff Fleming brainwash O’Brien into a do nothing commander? Sorry, if this story is accurate, I ain’t buying it!

    Commander O’Brien deserves a whole lot more respect than this after 29 years of service. What Manfre has just done tells the rest of the troops that honor and loyalty to the citizens of Flagler County and law enforcement mean nothing to him. Great way to ruin the morale of the sheriff’s office. He’s already blatantly showed them he doesn’t want them having any political opinions. These poor cops must feel like there walking on glass. I fear that if this continues the men and women of the FCSO will be afraid to do anything in fear of losing there jobs. They have enough to worry about when they patrol our streets without this B.S.

    • Anonymous says:

      I personally think the whole lot of them should be put under a microscope and look at. This is the most dysfunctional agency I have ever seen. They are the laughing stock of Florida law enforcement. Just ask any one outside of the Country.

    • Samuel Smith says:

      He’s probably been ineffective the entire time, he’s just been promoted upwards away from places he can cause issues.

  20. glad fly says:

    don fleming for sheriff in four years. it will happen if he runs. write it down.

  21. glad fly says:

    where’s that rue and ziffra phone number?

  22. tulip says:

    Well certain people degraded and sued Pollinger over nothing, certain people raked Fleming over the coals over a guest card and the fact that he wasn’t totally willing to talk about Ms Pequer’s death. Instead of looking at these two people as a whole and what they have accomplished, all the mob mentality people just considered the bad things, turned their backs and voted for Manfre. These people got what they wished for, I hope it makes them happy. Perhaps all the voters who believed every word he said will now know he lies and does things that neither Pollinger or Fleming would think of doing.

    Let’s see what happens in 4 years.

    • Magnolia says:

      Tulip: You HAVE to be kidding, right? Pollinger tried to pass himself off as something he wasn’t, and Fleming defrauded the citizens of Palm Coast by taking favors without paying for them, not to mention the scandal over the hit and run. His actions or inactions may have helped to cost her life.

      Give us all a break, puleeze!! Can’t we find a politician around here who isn’t a liar and crooked? God save us from ourselves!!!

      What would happen to you if you didn’t show up for work?

      • Solo says:

        His actions or in actions may have cost her life? What could he have done the next morning when he received a call and was told it was an animal? She was receiving medical care soon after the incident. May she rest in peace.

  23. Magnolia says:

    Wow, just look at the dirt fly! It has always been my understanding that if you don’t show up for work, arrive late and leave early that you may be subject to firing.

    But then there is also the United States Congress!

  24. Cabreia says:

    This certainly is very odd. Has anyone have info on the deputy who killed. Mr. Pacheco? I think. There are too many very bad things are happening around here, like never before. They never caught the killer who shot the women at the gas station, and they don’t. Give updates to the public about the status of horrible unsolved crimes either. Manfre may fashion himself as a ruthless leader. However, that does not mean he is a savvy, good man in the least bit, nor a team player.

  25. Local citizen says:

    O’Brien knows more about policing in this county after 29 years than any retired officer or lawyer that moved down from the North East and ran for sherriff to supplement their retirement. I am a retired home builder and one of the things that irritated me was when someone from up North tells me how they did it up there without knowing Florida building codes. I hope O’Brien runs for sherrif in the next election.

    • Go back to NY says:

      100% correct!! After working for them for 4 years, and seeing the types of people and where they were from, that county is just going to get worse. I also noticed the names of the streets throughout PC are from the NE. Best decision I made was to get out of that place. That whole town is full of mental cases.

    • Magnolia says:

      @local citizen: All probably true, but he has to show up for work, doesn’t he, just like everybody else? Not a good recommendation for him.

  26. Rah..Rah!!!! says:

    The courts in your FAVOR Sheriff Fleming. see you in 2016 no doubt…
    Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the writing on the ticket book….

  27. Magnolia says:

    Rah Rah, God help us if the arrogant Fleming runs again in 2016. We need some new material in Palm Coast.

    How about a Sheriff that we HIRE with a two year contract?

  28. Anonymous says:

    Sheriff Manfre is doing what he said he’d do. Good Job! Remember Manfre is a lawyer and he didn’t fire Obrien without just cause and plenty of documentation to back it up. Long overdue. Obrien and Fleming and Plummer and some of the others…. you know that thing about karma. It always comes back, always. Hopefully Manfre isn’t finished yet, there’s still similar work to be done.

  29. Jerseygirl says:

    Wow, people act like this is the first time a newly elected official cleaned house……

    It’s called being “at willed”, and it is a common career breaker for administrators on the losing side of a political race. Something Rick Staley is more than familiar with, and who would have done his own housecleaning if he ever won an election himself.

    • Anonymous says:

      Now we have the ex-PIO putting in a grievance for discrimination. Wow, what’s next? I think everyone who has been wronged should get together and file a class action complaint and sue the pants off of them.

      • Ray Thorne says:

        ex-pio? From what I’ve read she’s still the pio only now she’s forced to give someone else credit for her work???

  30. HJ says:

    all Political BS !!! the writing is on the wall….Major Steve Clair was fired for NO good reason, other than he supported the former sheriff Don Fleming… take a..look at his record…after 20 + years with the FCSO, he was well liked among the community and within the agency. he did an outstanding job and went above and beyond the call of duty and to be fired for nothing more than a personal grudge by the new Sheriff Jim Manfre is totally wrong !!!!! what a joke…..wake up people !!! its only been 2 months and everyday there is more turmoil and drama……..and trust me its only just begun…………..

  31. HJ says:

    Purely political……look what happened to Major Steve Clair…..after 23 years of service to the FCSO. Well liked and respected by the community and the agency. A very dedicated officer who went above the call of duty, with nothing but positive reviews in his files and he was fired immediately for nothing but a grudge held by the new sheriff Jim Manfre, motivated by deputy Clair’s support for the former chief Donald Fleming…pure and simple…what a shame….!!!…the truth will come out eventually !!!

  32. terry says:

    Just watch your back… O’Brien thought he was safe… from the madman…

  33. flaglerdave says:

    Wannabe Sheriff Manfre is a total kook. He was before when in office and is again, no suprise there .So far since Mayhams been in office have two unsolved murders and dismay amongst the deputys. Firing Major Steve Clair too was wrong on all levels. Major Clair did nothing wrong, supporting his Sheriff ( Fleming ) was not a crime. It is crystal clear to me that Sheriff Fleming could run the the FCSO office better in his sleep then what Mayhm Manfre is doing now. I bet the moral with the current -still employed deputys is terribly low, I feel for them as I know it stinks to have a knucklehead running the show.
    Good Luck OBrien, stabbing Plummer and Clair in the back did not work out too good

  34. RNYPD says:

    So this guy was good enough to be his number 2, eight years ago but he was so tainted by the last Sheriff that he is useless now? Are we supposed to buy that? Hubris pure and simple. Look out folks there will be some doosies from this one before it is over.

  35. resident says:

    Like I have said …….Steve Clair for Sheriff!!!
    If Manfre is such an outstanding person, why does he have such a problem paying bills to local hardworking businesses?

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