The mayor of a small Gulf Coast town in Florida was arrested on Thursday after shooting at a SWAT team that had come to arrest him on charges of illegally practicing medicine, officials say.
Dale Glen Massad, mayor of Port Richey, a town of around 2,600 north of Tampa, fired two shots at officers who raided his home in the early hours of the morning, Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco told reporters. No officers were injured.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement was investigating Massad, a former doctor who gave up his license in 1992, after being tipped off by the Port Richey Police Department that Massad was still practicing medicine, officials said.
The law enforcement team showed up at Massad’s house around 4:40 a.m. They identified themselves and pounded on his door, battering it with a ram and shooting it with a shotgun before realizing the door opened outward, according to a complaint affidavit in the case.
They lit a distraction device inside the front door that emitted a bang and a bright light, after which they heard two shots from inside the house, the complaint said. SWAT team members moved back from the house, observing Massad with a gun in his left hand on the home’s second floor, using a cellphone.
Nocco said the SWAT team loudly announced its presence before entering the home and asked Massad to drop his weapon. At some point during the incident, Massad made statements that he did not want to go back to jail, Nocco said.
No officers were injured and Massad was arrested without further incident, Nocco said. He is charged with two counts of attempted homicide, according to the complaint.
“He’s lucky he’s not dead,” Nocco said. “When somebody says, ‘I’m not going back to jail,’ that means it’s either going to be a shootout, they’re either going to flee, possibly suicide by cop."
It was not immediately clear whether Massad had a defense lawyer. According to the affidavit, he told officers after his arrest that he had been awakened by the loud bangs at his door. It said he admitted to firing his .40 caliber gun into the hallway.
Nocco said deputies were aware they were entering a potentially dangerous situation. Massad had multiple weapons in his house and was believed to be using drugs when officers came to arrest him, Nocco said. He was also arrested on a domestic violence related charge in the last few months, Nocco said.
“That’s who we were dealing with today,” Nocco said, adding later, “Unfortunately with this individual the reputation was there, that you’re not dealing with the most upstanding of individuals."
Massad was a licensed doctor from 1977 until 1992, when he gave up his license after a 3-year-old patient died, according to the Florida Department of Health.
Massad’s arrest throws the small city’s government into disarray, displacing its chief executive and possibly triggering a special election. Until Massad resigns or is removed from office by the city council, he is still technically the mayor, said Port Richey’s vice mayor, Terrence Rowe, in an interview with The Washington Post on Thursday night. The city attorney is investigating how to move forward, he said.
But for the time being, Rowe will act as interim mayor.
“I don’t even know how that’s going to go down,” Rowe said.
On Friday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) issued an executive order suspending Massad from office, writing that he was empowered to do so under the state’s constitution.
Massad was elected mayor in a 2015 special election, where just 27 percent of registered voters cast ballots. He received a total of 182 votes and won the three-way race.
Port Richey’s city council is composed of five members, including Massad and Rowe, and will now be tasked with steering the community of just under 3,000 residents through an uncertain political future.
Rowe said he has known Massad for 18 years, counts him as a close friend and has never known him to be confrontational.
“He’s innocent until proven guilty, so I’m waiting to see what other details come out,” Rowe said. “I’ve never known him to be anything but cooperative to law enforcement. But this is an unusual situation.”
This wasn’t Massad’s first encounter with the law.
He was arrested months before, in August, and charged with misdemeanor domestic battery, police records say.
News reports at the time indicated a long history of troubles at home, where he lived with his then-girlfriend, who was arrested with Massad, also on a domestic battery charge. A local TV station reported that police had visited the mayor’s house four dozen times in the months leading up to the 2018 arrests.
But Massad’s history with authorities dates back to at least the early 1990s, when his medical practice came under scrutiny after the death of a 3-year-old patient he was treating for facial birthmarks.
Massad, documents from the health department say, gave the child Valium without determining the proper dosage and allowed a dentist to inject the child with anesthetic, again without determining a safe dosage. It turned out to be fatally toxic. After Florida’s board of medicine filed four counts against him, Massad gave up his medical license in 1992.
On Thursday, it was allegations surrounding Massad’s medical work that again had him in trouble.
Officials said that during the investigation that eventually brought them to the mayor’s door, they found he had treated a patient with an injection for which he which he was not licensed and performed a surgical procedure on another.
Massad was booked into Pasco County jail.
The next Port Richey City Council meeting is scheduled for Feb. 26. Before the mayor’s arrest, one of the most pressing city issues was the dredging of three local canals, making the waterways deeper and opening them up to more boat traffic.
“We’re finally going to get three canals done,” Rowe said, “and he probably will not be available to see it.”
This post has been updated.