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Wed., Oct. 7
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The conclusion of Jefferson County Sheriff John P. Burns’s belated investigation into misconduct of two deputies raises more questions than it answers.

Sheriff Burns this week cited Deputy Adam B. Hallett with having an open alcoholic beverage container in his patrol car and suspended him without pay. The off-duty deputy was passed out in the vehicle parked on the side of the road on Dec. 1.

No charges were lodged then by the investigating officer, Deputy Matthew A. Vaughn.

The matter was being handled internally for three weeks before Sheriff Burns assumed personal control, promising a thorough and complete investigation with an outcome “nothing less than would have occurred with any other citizen of Jefferson County.”

But the conclusion suggests otherwise with reason to believe Deputy Hallett received special consideration from Deputy Vaughn that would not have been given to other motorists.

An open container was found in a vehicle with the driver passed out. When did the incident occur? Was a detailed, written report made then? Was there reason to suspect drunken driving?

Was a sobriety test taken? Why was an arrest not made or a ticket issued at the time? Did the three-week delay affect evidence gathering that might have led to more serious charges?

An eyewitness on the scene tells the Times that ambulance personnel and troopers were waved off by Deputy Vaughn. Is that true? Were their statements taken?

Since another deputy was involved, why didn’t Deputy Vaughn immediately back off and let state troopers take over to avoid possible conflict of interest? Deputy Vaughn was observed talking on the phone. Was he getting instructions from a superior or finding help for Deputy Hallett? Was Hallett allowed to drive away?

Sheriff Burns initiated his investigation after receiving undisclosed “additional information” about the incident.

Did one of his deputy’s withhold material from the sheriff or other superior officer? The entire matter appears to be a cover-up in an unequal enforcement of the law.

Now Deputy Vaughn also faces disciplinary action for his botched initial investigation, joining Deputy Hallett and several fellow officers accused of misconduct recently, including:

n Undersheriff Andrew R. Neff, who remains suspended with pay while state police investigate allegations that he sent a woman lewd photos using a department cellphone.

n Detective Steven C. Cote, the subject of a civil action alleging he deceived a female deputy into posing nude for photographs as part of an online pedophilia investigation.

n Deputy James J. Randall, who served a 60-day suspension for having a relationship with a woman with a criminal record in violation of department policy.

n Corrections officer Mark H. Kellogg, facing a third-degree assault charge stemming from a bar fight at Adams Center. He is also on duty.

Their conduct besmirches the rest of the department. It is a department operating without top-level supervision. It is a cancer that will continue to grow without stronger action.

Residents deserve an explanation of what went wrong. They need to know that everyone is being treated equally. Now other authorities must step in.

Jefferson County legislators have to end their hands-off approach to the department’s disarray. Taxpayers are paying to defend deputies in pending lawsuits.

Legislators should demand answers from Sheriff Burns and a public accounting of what he is doing to clean up his department. If they get no response, they can assert some oversight through their control of his budget.

District Attorney Cindy Intschert, as the county’s chief law enforcement officer, also has to step in. The numerous allegations could taint evidence in other cases by calling into question the deputies’ judgment and integrity.

It is time for Mrs. Intschert to initiate a thorough investigation of the Sheriff’’s Department, and if not, then she should call for an outside investigation.

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