He was Trooper of the Year. Then he sent explicit messages to teen girls he met on the job.

Phillip McMillan, 31, was also ordered to give up his pistol to police after his ex-girlfriend reported he had threatened to kill himself.
Published August 13

The two teenage girls were driving home from Palm Harbor University High last October when another driver side-swiped their car and took off.

They called police. Florida Highway Patrol trooper Phillip McMillan arrived to help. He was friendly with the girls, both 16 at the time, said the mother of the teen who was driving. They asked if they could photograph him doing a dab, a popular dance move. He said no but that he could add the girls on Snapchat, where photos and messages disappear after the recipient views them.

He started messaging the girls, and the chatting soon grew inappropriate, according to court documents. He asked for photos and told the girls sexually explicit things he wanted to do to them.

"She's trying to do the responsible thing about calling and reporting the side swipe, and it turns into a freaking nightmare," said the mother of the driver, who asked for anonymity for her and her daughter because of the nature of the allegations.

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The girls eventually reported his actions to their school resource officer, sparking an internal inquiry within the Highway Patrol that revealed more offenses, a spokesman said. When internal investigators went to interview McMillan in February, he resigned.

Police records show he had also broken into an ex-girlfriend's house through a window and threatened to kill himself. The ex-girlfriend told police she had broken up with him after finding out about his contact with the teenage girls.

The encounter with the ex-girlfriend led the Tampa Police Department to pursue a court order to seize his gun under Florida's red flag law.

Three years earlier, in 2016, McMillan had been honored as Trooper of the Year at the Our Heroes Luncheon in Tampa for stopping an armed man fleeing a trail of hit-and-run crashes. The two men exchanged gunfire in a Pinellas County industrial area.

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Reached by phone, McMillan, 31, told the Tampa Bay Times he lives in Orlando now and is looking for jobs. He called the allegations against him "crap" but did not go into specifics, instead deferring comment to his St. Petersburg lawyer, Melinda Morris. Morris did not return requests for comment.

"So y'all just pull records and slander people when you feel like it, or what?" he said. "I'm a human being. I worked for someone. I got screwed over. And I'm trying to move on."

Information about the social media contact with the teens was turned over in December by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office to the inspector general with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, said Highway Patrol Capt. Thomas Pikul. An investigation was opened.

The inspector general learned that along with the inappropriate contact, McMillan failed to complete a crash report in the fender bender involving the teens. He also failed to upload his in-car camera video and claimed time for which he didn't work, Pikul said.

McMillan was placed on administrative leave Jan. 15, according to a police report. Two days later, the ex-girlfriend told police, McMillan informed her about his contact with the two teens. She ended the relationship.

McMillan threatened to end his own life with his 9mm pistol, the woman told police, then repeated the threat a few days later, sending her a photo of a noose.

On Jan. 22, the woman was at her apartment with friends and decided to block his phone number to keep him from contacting her, she told police. About half an hour later, he broke through a screen and tumbled into her apartment through an open window. He refused to leave, and she and a friend wrote that they felt unsafe because he alluded to having a gun in his car.

They called 911 and left the apartment. By the time they returned, he was gone, but he showed up at the woman's job the next morning to ask her not to press charges, according to police records. He later pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor trespassing charge, court records show.

Because the woman had expressed concerns for her safety, the Times is not identifying her.

The contentious break-up made it into a petition for injunction against McMillan filed on behalf of one of the girls. According to the petition, the inspector general told the girl's father that McMillan's ex-girlfriend reported he had said, "I just want to kill her," speaking about one of the girls.

The inspector general tried to interview McMillan on Feb. 14 in Tampa. He resigned instead. The four allegations against him were sustained.

The agency also spoke with the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office about pursuing criminal charges. Prosecutors determined that McMillan's actions weren't criminal because he didn't send obscene photos or attempt to pursue or solicit sex with either of them, said Assistant State Attorney Kendall Davidson.

Less than a week after McMillan's resignation, a Tampa police attorney cited the encounter between McMillan and his ex-girlfriend in a risk protection order saying McMillan "poses a significant danger of causing personal injury" to himself or others "in the near future." A judge granted the order Feb. 25, according to court records. It remains in effect for a year.

In July, a judge also granted stalking injunctions on behalf of the two teenage girls until next August, after the girls turn 18. Court records show McMillan had been attending counseling sessions and the injunction orders him to keep going.

Parents of both girls said they wanted the injunctions in effect for longer, although the teen driver's mother said she was grateful for the small victory. Greg Reyes, father of the other teen, still doesn't understand how McMillan's actions aren't considered criminal and said he's nervous about what happens when the injunction is up.

McMillan's contact with his daughter went further than messages, Reyes said. He showed up at her former job at a Panera Bread restaurant. He also drove by the family's apartment complex and sent photos of the complex to the girl. Now, she's afraid to walk their dog outside, Reyes said, or go out with friends as much.

"She's concerned she might bump into him when she least expects it," said Reyes, 43.

The other teen's grades tanked the second semester of her junior year, after her contact with McMillan, her mother said. She was so shaken up she moved more than 1,000 miles away.

Her mother hopes McMillan isn't allowed to work in law enforcement again.

"He doesn't belong working with the public like that," she said, "let alone with vulnerable young girls."

Contact Kathryn Varn at kvarn@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.

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