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Sheriff Burns will investigate “unfortunate incident” involving deputy

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Jefferson County Sheriff John P. Burns said Wednesday he personally will investigate “an unfortunate incident” involving a vehicle and traffic law violation by a deputy in which “an arrest was not made.”

However, at least one county legislator, Scott A. Gray, believes the sheriff should not be investigating his own department.

“I think it should be looked at by an outside agency,” Mr. Gray, R-Watertown, said. “That’s been my position from the beginning.”

Mr. Burns declined to confirm that his investigation will focus on K-9 handler Adam B. Hallett, but the date and circumstances he outlined are the same revealed about Deputy Hallett in the Dec. 11 issue of the Watertown Daily Times.

“On December 1, 2012, an unfortunate incident occurred with a Deputy Sheriff and the use of a patrol vehicle 118, a vehicle assigned to a K-9 handler,” Mr. Burns said in a press release.

Officers assigned to K-9 duty are authorized to take home their patrol vehicles because they are subject to call-ins for investigations where their dogs are needed. A source told the Times that another deputy sheriff discovered Deputy Hallett, an eight-year veteran of the department, asleep in his patrol vehicle off the side of a highway some time after he had gone off duty that day. No charges were filed.

The source also said a state trooper arrived at the scene, but was waved off by a deputy. State police Captain Darrin S. Pitkin said Wednesday he was unaware of any involvement on his agency’s part. Mr. Burns declined to say if he had knowledge of the incident the night it occurred.

“What I want to know is, who in this situation knew what was going on?” Mr. Gray said. “When did they know what was going on? Who in the chain-of-command knew about it? That should be real easy to find out.”

County Board of Legislators Chairwoman Carolyn D. Fitzpatrick, R-Watertown, said she is comfortable with Mr. Burns having “an opportunity to do a thorough and complete investigation, and I will hope that is what he’s going to do.” If the results are not satisfactory, the board may consider calling for an independent investigation.

“I want to give our sheriff a fair shot,” she said. “We’re going to do our due diligence and make sure it’s done properly. If it isn’t, we’re going to go on to plan B.”

Philip N. Reed, R-Fishers Landing, chairman of the General Services Committee, which oversees the Sheriff’s Department, agreed with Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s position.

“It’s a matter that we’re taking very seriously,” he said. “The chairwoman has been deeply involved with this and has set a process that we’re going to follow, and then we have the option, if we’re not satisfied, of looking at some alternatives.”

Legislator Robert J. Thomas, R-Glen Park, also said he does not have a problem with an internal investigation, as long as it is done in a timely manner.

“I have confidence that the internal investigation will be thorough and the end results will come out and fall where they may,” Mr. Thomas said. “Then this can get resolved and the department can get on with the excellent police work that they do. There are good men and women in the sheriff’s department that want this to be over so they can get back to work. It’s disruptive, something like this.”

Legislator Allen T. Drake agreed with Mr. Thomas that an outside investigation is not needed.

“I have confidence that (Mr. Burns) is going to investigate it and draw some fair conclusions,” Mr. Drake, D-Theresa, said. “You can’t blame the sheriff if a deputy makes a mistake, whether its criminal or ethical. I don’t think I’m going to base a decision on rumor. I’m going to base it on fact.”

John D. Peck, R-Great Bend, said, “It’s hard to respond because it’s an internal matter. Whether it warrants an outside investigation or not I honestly can’t say. It’s just an unfortunate event. The public trusts and expects more from their department.”

James A. Nabywaniec, R-Calcium, said, simply, “Everyone needs to be accountable for their actions.”

County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but County Attorney David J. Paulsen said he had consulted with Mr. Burns regarding the investigation.

“The sheriff is an elected official who is responsible for his own department,” Mr. Paulsen said, declining further comment.

When asked by the Times on Dec. 10 about Deputy Hallett, Mr. Burns confirmed only that the deputy was the subject of an internal investigation and was not under suspension. On Wednesday, he gave assurance that “this will be a thorough and complete investigation and the outcome will be nothing less than would have occurred with any other citizen of Jefferson County.” The sheriff said he is taking on the investigation because he obtained “additional information” on Wednesday morning, declining to elaborate. He also believes it is appropriate for him to handle the investigation.

With several interviews and statements to take and the Christmas holiday approaching, the investigation will be slightly prolonged, possibly two weeks, he said.

“I will assure the citizens of Jefferson County that at the conclusion of this investigation, criminal/disciplinary charges or both will be placed against the Deputy Sheriff,” Mr. Burns said.

Mr. Gray said he will be “patient” while waiting to see what the investigation determines.

“I understand that there is an internal investigation going on now,” he said. “I will wait to see if that information is sufficient enough or satisfactory enough.”

Legislators Michael F. Astafan, Robert D. Ferris, Anthony J. Doldo, Jennie M. Adsit, Michael J. Docteur and Michael A. Montigelli could not be reached for comment.

Legislators Barry M. Ormsby and Michael W. Behling said they did not know enough about the investigation to comment.

Times staff writers David Shampine, Brian Kelly, Daniel Flatley and Craig Fox contributed to this report.

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