SUMTER COUNTY, Fla. – A former Wildwood deputy police chief and a former police captain have filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Wildwood after they said they tried to expose a major mold problem at police headquarters.
According to the lawsuit, former deputy chief Gerard Olbek and former Capt. Ashley Rogers said they were accused of theft and criminal mischief when they took their own samples of mold, and because of the accusations, they were forced to resign.
Olbek and Rogers sat down with News 6 to talk about the lawsuit and the mold.
"We would move furniture, and everything behind it was blackened," said Olbek.
"It became an unsafe working environment for us and the employees," said Rogers.
The federal lawsuit claims City Manager Jason McHugh refused to address the issues of mold and asbestos, even after a fire hit the department last October.
"You have to make sure that these employees at least get tested for mold and asbestos," Olbek recalled a conversation with McHugh. "He said, 'we're not talking about that.' I said, 'what?' He said, 'and don't use the M word.'"
Olbek said he and Rogers decided to take their own samples of the mold inside the department.
"It was on a Saturday, and I knew that it was my only opportunity to get the truth," Rogers said. "I took some samples, and I had them boxed up as a defense for us and a method of proving what was actually inside the building in case it never got out."
"Years of employees with migraines, allergies, sinus infections and things kept going and going and going," said Olbek.
According to the lawsuit, the city manager threatened to file criminal charges against both men when he found out they had taken samples of mold and drywall in the burned building.
"The most absurd thing to me was that it was actually being investigated by the sheriffs office," said Olbek. "I couldn't even wrap my head around that."
"If I didn't resign, they were going to put me in jail," said Rogers. "They made that very clear."
Both men said they resigned to avoid arrest and to keep their pensions.
"These men and women have dedicated their lives to taking care of other people, as I have.
Those are people," said Olbek.
McHugh told News 6 on Wednesday that he could not comment on any pending litigation.