Before Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy Brandon Hegele struck a Smart car in May 2016 while speeding more than 100 mph on Southern Boulevard — severely injuring its driver — he changed lanes nine times and only turned on his emergency lights to go through two intersections.
Before that, sheriff’s office supervisors gave “three verbal commands over the police radio not to pursue” a car authorities believed was connected to a felony case — and also told deputies to keep a distance from the vehicle, according to a crash investigation report.
Before that, Hegele was involved in at least six crashes in his patrol car resulting in tens of thousands of dollars in damages, but was usually just given a written reprimand, according to sheriff’s Internal Affairs records obtained by The Palm Beach Post.
Hegele, who has been a deputy since September 2004, is charged with reckless driving in the May 27, 2016, crash that injured Harry Deshommes, now 61. Hegele is set to go to trial on Aug. 28, according to court records.
Scott Richardson, Hegele’s lawyer, declined to comment on the case. Richardson has had his share of high-profile and law-enforcement cases: He previously defended John Goodman in his fatal DUI manslaughter trial and now represents former Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja in the fatal shooting of Corey Jones.
On May 27, 2016, a “Be On The Look-Out” alert was issued for a red vehicle that Palm Springs police said had left the area traveling west. Though it’s unclear from the reports what the car was wanted for, sergeants in command told deputies not to pursue it and to keep a distance.
Dashboard camera footage shows Hegele weaving in and out of lanes as his speed increases every mile along Southern Boulevard, reaching 104 mph.
Investigators say Deshommes made a U-turn east of Cleary Road to head west on Southern, six seconds before the impact. In those six seconds, investigators say Hegele traveled a distance of 883 feet. That’s the length of nearly three football fields.
Witnesses told investigators the light-blue Smart car rolled over several times before it came to its final stop, facing south on the sidewalk just before Cleary and Florida’s Turnpike.
In crash-scene photos, a black-and-white U.S. flag with a single blue line — signifying law enforcement — is crushed along with the rest of the front of the patrol car.
Deshommes, who was 60 at the time of the crash, was taken to St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach, where his spleen was removed. According to the investigative report, Deshommes also had a skull fracture, a traumatic brain injury, a broken left arm, a broken back, several broken ribs and a broken pelvis.
Hegele has been on unpaid leave from the sheriff’s office since Sept. 22, 2016.
Well before that critical crash, the sheriff’s office documented several traffic-related incidents in the deputy’s career, starting early on, Internal Affairs records show.
In most cases, Hegele was given a written reprimand for offenses such as hitting medians and causing damage to his vehicle. At least twice he rear-ended vehicles, losing driving privileges in one of those case. His offenses include:
2005: Details unknown; written reprimand.
2006: Backed up his cruiser into a parked car; written reprimand.
2007:Fell asleep at the wheel and hit a median, causing $1,207.82 in damages; reprimand unknown.
2008: Patrol car rear-ended vehicle that was clearing an intersection, causing $4,000 in damages; one-day suspension without pay and 60 days without a vehicle.
2009: Rear-ended a Ford SUV on westbound Gateway Boulevard, causing nearly $12,000 in damages; written reprimand.
2011: Failed to report a crash until hours after it happened and once he had replaced the car’s flat tires. Investigators believe Hegele attempted to respond to a robbery call and hit either a curb or a sidewalk that slashed two of his tires. The report said Hegele called to let dispatch know he was having issues with his vehicle and to put him out of service, but did not say what happened. Then, he called another deputy to bring him spare tires, went to a restaurant for dinner and then called a sergeant nearly two hours after the incident happened to report the damage.
He was suspended for one day without pay and was not allowed to use his vehicle for 60 days.
Other than traffic crashes, Hegele has been cited numerous times for “indifference to policies and procedures.”
In 2012, Internal Affairs investigators said in the first three months of the year Hegele had 72 calls for service he responded to. Of those, 52 cases required log entries by the deputies to document the case to go along with a case number. Hegele only submitted nine, according to records.
Between April and July 2012, Hegele was put on a performance-improvement plan after several incidents concerning his conduct. In May 2012, after a routine vehicle inspection by his sergeant, he nearly lost his job.
On May 7, 2012, Sergeant Neil Honkala was checking vehicles of deputies under his command when he came upon several items in Hegele’s vehicle. First, the deputy’s personal Glock model 21 was found between the driver-side seat and the console in his cruiser with a bullet missing. He said the gun was “clearly visible” from outside the vehicle and was dirty. Hegele said he forgot he put it there and didn’t know why a bullet was missing. He said he was moving and didn’t want the gun to get into his 4-year-old daughter’s hands, so he placed it in his patrol car.
Also inside the vehicle was a signed Miranda Rights card that investigators to which Hegele told Honkala, “Are you going to make a big deal about this?” according to the report. Hegele said he didn’t remember what the card belonged to but that “it must be nothing” if he didn’t place it into evidence. It turned out, the report shows, that it belonged to someone related to an auto-theft case.
Instead of termination as recommended, Hegele was given a “Last Chance Agreement,” where he agreed to a 15-day suspension, a 90-day re-evaluation, and a transfer to a new district, as well as agreeing to not violate policies; otherwise he would be terminated without a chance for appeal, according to documents.