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Tuesday, Dec 11, 2018
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Ex-Hernando deputy involved in January standoff sentenced to probation

A former Hernando County Sheriff's deputy, who forced a 10-hour standoff with his fellow deputies after a domestic dispute in January, will serve two-and-a-half years probation. A November plea deal came after testimony from William "Cole" Brinson's family that contradicted earlier statements, according to court documents.

"The victims all gave different testimony at deposition than their recorded and written statements after the incident," State Attorney Brad King wrote in an announcement of the decision to halt prosecution on three of the five charges Brinson faced. The plea deal was offered based on the changes in testimony, King said, as well as Brinson's "lack of criminal history and ... counseling since the incident."

Brinson pleaded no contest on Nov. 16 to one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and one count of battery, according to court records. A judge gave him 30 months of probation on the first count and one year on the second, which Brinson will serve concurrently. Prosecutors abandoned one other aggravated assault charge and two other battery charges.

Brinson, through his attorney, declined to comment for this story.

Family members originally told deputies that Brinson spent Jan. 8 drinking at their home north of Brooksville, according to an arrest report, and after dinner shoved one of his three sons. Family members told deputies that Brinson punched or shoved them in an ensuing scuffle, and his wife and sons left the house.

Soon after, Brinson's mother arrived and climbed through a window, she told deputies. He pointed a gun at her and told her to get out of the house, then pointed the gun at one of his sons, according to the arrest report. Deputies arrived and reportedly heard a gunshot from inside the house, though nobody was injured.

Brinson then barricaded himself inside his house, according to reports, and deputies spent about 10 hours trying to coax him out. They arrested him at about 6:30 the next morning.

Hours later, in a letter from jail to Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis, he resigned from the Sheriff's Office.

Brinson spent 14 years with the Sheriff's Office with high evaluation scores, but was transferred to a patrol position and then to a human resources position in late 2017 because of concerns about his fitness for duty. At least one colleague noted in a report that he knew of Brinson's problems with alcohol.

Brinson's mother and his wife more recently testified that they didn't remember much of what they told deputies after the standoff, according to court records. Both said they feared that Brinson would take his own life that night. Brinson's mother said she never saw her son point the gun at her.

They said Brinson was diagnosed in 2016 with post-traumatic stress disorder, which his wife connected to the stress of his job as a major case detective.

"When I started noticing (drinking) becoming an issue ... I even suggested maybe he needed to get out of, you know, that department that he was in, because it was affecting him," Brinson's wife said in a court deposition. "He would wake up in the middle of the night, you know, having a nightmare."

Nienhuis declined to comment for this story.

Barbara Gisondi, the Sheriff's Office human resources director, said the office has an employee assistance program and a wellness program, as well as medical insurance that includes mental health services with no copay for outpatient treatment. Deputies earlier this year went through post-traumatic stress disorder training, she said.

The Sheriff's Office encourages employees to ask for help if they need it, Gisondi said, in part because the pressure of the job can lead to slipping mental health.

"They can come way down from that if they're not careful and don't do things that are emotionally healthy," she said.

A plea deal for probation in a domestic violence case like this one isn't surprising, said Shannon Sokolowski, executive director of the Dawn Center of Hernando County, which helps survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Sokolowski didn't comment on the specifics of Brinson's case, but said that in cases where testimony changes over time or where victims don't testify at all, prosecutors often look to get whatever sentences they can.

"They're making difficult choices about: Is something better than nothing?" she said. "To be sure you're bringing some kind of sentencing with accountability ... is that better than taking the risk?"

Brinson must forfeit his law enforcement certification as part of the plea agreement, according to court records. He also must attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings at least twice a week. And he can spend no more than 10 hours a week in a home that contains firearms or ammunition.

In their depositions, Brinson's wife and mother said he's been attending AA meetings and working with an organization that aids veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder to establish a similar program for first-responders. He is living with his family.

Contact Jack Evans at jevans@tampabay.com. Follow @JackHEvans.

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