Undersheriff Andrew R. Neff, the target of accusations in an alleged sexual relationship with a woman having a criminal background, will be suspended with pay today, Jefferson County Sheriff John P. Burns said Wednesday.
The suspension eventually could be without pay for up to 30 days after “we sort things out,” Sheriff Burns said.
Mr. Neff, who was not on duty Wednesday morning, had not resigned when the sheriff was contacted shortly after 9:30 a.m. Mr. Neff some time ago had coincidentally taken the day for vacation time, Mr. Burns said.
The sheriff, saying he has had two nearly sleepless nights since learning Monday from a Watertown Daily Times reporter about the allegations against his undersheriff, said he discussed the issue with county attorney David J. Paulsen in a telephone call Wednesday morning. He declined to reveal any conversations he may have had since Monday with Mr. Neff about the allegations.
The undersheriff does not have union protection, and serves at the pleasure of the sheriff.
With two administrative positions vacant in his department, one by retirement and one by the pending suspension, Mr. Burns said, he personally will be handling all of the administrative responsibilities. He said he is not planning to make any temporary appointments to fill the voids.
Michele R. Bowens, 42, Adams Center, told reporters that she, with Sackets Harbor attorney Charu Narang, will file suit against Mr. Neff, accusing him of harassment, sexual harassment and police misconduct. She provided text messages she received recently from a cellphone that reporters confirmed to be Mr. Neff’s. She alleges she had a relationship with him more than five years ago, when she served as an informant while he worked undercover with the Metro-Jeff Drug Task Force.
Mr. Neff was appointed undersheriff in June 2011. Sheriff Burns said at the time that Mr. Neff “brings experience and common sense” to the position.
Mr. Neff has been with the department since July 1987, and spent two separate stints with the Drug Task Force. He was the department’s Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer for five years.
Among the undersheriff’s responsibilities are preparing a budget, writing grant applications, overseeing the detective and road patrol divisions and handling disciplinary matters.
While Mr. Burns did not specify the reasons for Mr. Neff’s suspension, the department has a policy forbidding its members from consorting with known criminals.
Deputy James J. Randall was suspended for 60 days in August after Mr. Burns learned he was involved in a relationship with Raven C. Carreira, a convicted felon who also has sued the county over an alleged defamatory statement made by one of the department’s detectives, Steven C. Cote.
Text messages allegedly originating from the Neff phone to Ms. Bowens, who has felony charges pending, appear to acknowledge his awareness of a sheriff’s policy about consorting with criminals, and there is an apparent reference to the suspension of Deputy Randall for having a relationship with Miss Carreira.
“That’s (expletive) up. I can’t be hanging around with u with all that going on! My guys get suspended for such things!!” one reads.
“OK. And we can’t!! We suspended a deputy for dating raven carreira...because she’s a convicted felon,” a second message reads.
“Yea...I can’t be a hypocrite,” a third reads, with the next message stating, “No. It’s the job. We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard.”
The post of lieutenant in the investigations division has been vacant since the retirement of Michael S. Peterson on Sept. 22. Three sergeants in the department expressed interest in the position, but not at the salary offered by the county.