PORT RICHEY Sheriff Chris Nocco started his Feb. 21 news conference on a shooting incident in Port Richey involving Mayor Dale Massad by thanking God that no one was injured in the incident.
Massad faces “multiple counts” of attempted murder for shooting at Sheriff Office SWAT deputies who were assisting the Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrest of Massad for practicing medicine without a license. The FDLE had asked the Sheriff’s Office for assistance in arresting Massad, the sheriff said.
The SWAT members, who did an “unbelievable job,” did not return fire and no one was injured during the arrest, Nocco said.
The heavily armed deputies took part in the arrest around 2 a.m. Feb. 21, Nocco told reporters, because Massad had been “profiled” as a “known drug user” with a criminal history who was known to have many weapons in his house.
“That’s what we were dealing with today,” the sheriff said.
The SWAT unit members, Nocco said, had clearly identified themselves while seeking to gain entry into Massad’s house on Hayward Lane in Port Richey. Several neighbors who had come out of their homes while the arrest was unfolding heard the deputies identify themselves as law enforcement officers, he said.
In an arrest affidavit released a few hours later on Feb. 21, the Sheriff’s Office said that after being taken into custody, Massad told deputies he awoke to the sound of loud bangs and thought it was Port Richey police officers. He told deputies he got up, grabbed a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun he keeps on his headboard, walked out of his bedroom and fired two rounds into a second-floor hallway.
Instead of returning fire, the SWAT contingent withdrew, surrounded the house and was preparing to launch tear gas into the house when Massad came out of the residence and was taken into custody, Nocco said.
Massad is “lucky he’s not dead,” Nocco said, because deputies would have been justified in returning fire.
Although SWAT did not respond to the shots from Massad, one team member had fired a shotgun at the locks on the front door of Massad’s house when a battering ram failed to open it, according to an affidavit. The deputies then discovered the door opens outward, not inward.
SWAT then deployed a “distraction device,” which causes a flash and a loud bang and then heard two “pops” from inside the residence. A SWAT member who is a certified firearms instructor said the popping sounds were gun fire, at which point the team retreated, according to the affidavit.
At the Feb. 21 news conference, Nocco said the Sheriff’s Office could not yet release the video recorded by deputies’ body cameras because the incident is still under investigation.
Following the arrest of Massad, Florida Attorney General Ashely Moody issued a statement on the incident.
“I want to commend Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco and the deputies who risked their lives apprehending this dangerous suspect,” Moody said. “No one is above the law.”
The state, Moody added, will investigate and prosecute any case within its jurisdiction, “regardless of the target’s political position or economic status.”
The law enforcement personnel taking part in the effort to arrest Massad have “very strong suspicions” the mayor was under the influence of drugs, Nocco told reporters. He declined to provide details on the information on which the suspicions were based, saying that was the subject of the investigation by the FDLE.
Nocco, however, said “there is much more to the story” involving Massad and his possible illegal actions, calling the situation “intriguing.”
According to FDLE arrest affidavits, Massad, a former physician who is no longer licensed, has been performing medical procedures such as removing splinters and suturing a wound and giving injections of prescription medicines cortisone and local anesthetics.
In addition, a witness told the FDLE that Massad had gone online to order “multiple medications via the internet.”
According to the FDLE affidavit, an unnamed person “began assisting in an investigation” and pretended to have a knee injury. The witness called Massad and Massad agreed to discuss the injury at his home, the affidavit states.
Massad told the witness he had an injured tendon and would get the medicine needed to treat it and tell the witness where and how to inject it.
The Sheriff’s Office, Nocco stressed during the news conference, has no interested in trying to take over law enforcement inside the city of Port Richey. The city’s police chief, Gerard DeCanio, is a “very good professional.”
Asked how someone with Massad’s history could be the mayor of a city, Nocco declined to comment, saying only that is a question the voters of Port Richey should be asking.
Nocco did mention he had once been with the police department in Fairfax County, Virginia, in the Washington, D.C., metro area. Nocco then made a reference to the late Marion Barry Jr., who was arrested by the FBI on drug charges in 1990 after undercover surveillance video of him smoking crack cocaine became public. Barry spent six months in federal prison but after being released was re-elected mayor of the nation’s capital, in 1994.