PASCO COUNTY, Fla. – An appeals court Friday overturned a former Port Richey mayor’s conviction on a charge of conspiracy to obstruct justice.
Former Mayor Dale Massad was accused of conspiring with then-acting Mayor Terrence Rowe in 2019 while Massad was in jail after being arrested on charges that he practiced medicine without a license and fired a gun at police as they tried to serve a search warrant, according to Friday’s ruling by a panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal.
After a jailhouse phone call from Massad, Rowe requested from the city a copy of the personnel file of police officer Donald Howard, who had been involved in the investigation and arrest of Massad. Howard alerted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, with Massad ultimately charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice falsely under the color of law.
A jury found Massad guilty, but the appeals court said there was no evidence that Massad and Rowe agreed to use the personnel file, which is a public record, “for the purpose of intimidation or retaliation” against Howard.
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“Mr. Rowe requesting and obtaining these files can hardly be said to be illegal, nor considered ‘acting falsely under color of law,’” said the 11-page ruling, written by Judge Andrea Teves Smith and joined by Judges Darryl Casanueva and Edward LaRose. “While it is certainly conceivable that Mr. Rowe could have used these documents in an attempt to intimidate or retaliate against Officer Howard, there was no evidence of such an attempt, nor was it the topic of any discussion between Mr. Massad and Mr. Rowe.”
Massad in 2021 reached a plea deal on other charges he faced, according to Tampa Bay-area media reports at the time.