Daytona Beach, FL - A former Volusia County Sheriff's Office deputy gets over $42,000 from his former employer after he was fired for criticizing Sheriff Mike Chitwood on social media about an investigation into the actions of two other deputies during a highway pursuit.
30-year-old John Szabo's agreement with Volusia County has neither side admitting wrongdoing after his termination last September 28th, but Szabo was allowed to resign his post after a brief reinstatement and collect over $27,000 in back pay, nearly $6,000 in leave payouts and over $9,000 in severance pay, all before taxes.
The resignation means Szabo will now be able to apply to other law enforcement agencies without having this black mark in his official file, according to Volusia County Deputies Association President Brodie Hughes.
"I think this makes John Szabo whole," Hughes stated. "I think this is a victory for the union. We showed that we are willing to stand up for our members' rights if the opportunity comes about."
Szabo's firing came following an internal investigation which showed he made disparaging comments about Chitwood in a Facebook post. It was in relation to Chitwood's decision to investigate why two deputies didn't have their body cameras on during a pursuit on Interstate 95 last August.
Hughes says those comments were on a private group for union members, not one with general public access.
"It's a forum where the members can bring their concerns to light and have kind of a sounding board with the union executive board," Hughes added. "Somebody snapshotted his comments and shared them with the Sheriff."
Soon after Szabo's termination, the VCDA filed an "Unfair Labor Practice Charge" against the county with the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission, claiming Szabo should not have been dismissed because of the private nature of the union's Facebook group.
"In speaking and consulting with our team of attorneys, we felt strongly that John's actions by posting in that private union-only forum was considered protected union speech and the termination was unlawful," Hughes noted.
Both sides were set for a July hearing, but Hughes says the county's legal team reached out the month prior to talk of a potential settlement and the deal was made soon after.
"This sends a message to the county as a whole that you have to follow the rules and, if you don't follow the rules, we're going to be there to support our members and make sure that the rules are followed," Hughes stated.
As part of the settlement, Szabo - who had been with VCSO since 2011 - agreed to not apply for reinstatement, employment or re-employment with VCSO as long as Chitwood remains the Sheriff. He did have the option to come back to work for VCSO but decided not to, per Hughes.
When reached for comment, Chitwood says the move to fire Szabo was made on the advice of the county's legal department and didn't have much to say otherwise.