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Widen probe

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Conflicting reports about a Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department investigation into misconduct by a fellow officer detail how deputies mishandled the investigation in a cover-up of their flagrant preferential treatment shown a fellow officer.

As a result of the simmering controversy over the Dec. 1 incident, the Jefferson County Legislature is seeking an outside investigation of the incident involving off-duty Deputy Adam B. Hallettt, who was found passed out in a patrol car on the side of the road.

Redacted reports of Sheriff John P. Burns and County Attorney David J. Paulsen show that deputies flouted normal procedures to protect a colleague. Based on the reports, the patrol car was running and Deputy Hallett was slumped over the steering wheel when the first officer, apparently Deputy Matthew A. Vaughn, arrived. He said Deputy Hallett was “slow in speech and acted somewhat intoxicated.” The responding deputy also detected an odor of alcohol and an open liquor bottle.

Most drivers would have gotten a trip to the Metro-Jeff Public Safety Building for a breathalyzer test and not a free ride to a friend’s house. Deputy Vaughn got rid of evidence by tossing the liquor bottle into the field, raising the question of a possible criminal charge of tampering with a crime scene. More than a month later, Deputy Hallett was only cited with a minor violation of having an open container of alcohol in the patrol car. Deputy Vaughn faces disciplinary action.

New details also emerge with mention of two witnesses who came on the scene. The reports confirm that the Henderson rescue squad and state police were dismissed by the deputies. The public learned that an unidentified sergeant was at the scene and a third deputy or supervisor was contacted with a call to a fourth person, possibly the sheriff.

The reports released to the public inappropriately blot out the names of sheriff’s personnel, who are being paid by the public to do their jobs.

With names blotted out, there is confusion over who directed Deputy Hallett to be taken from the scene, and where. Sheriff Burns said he instructed his officers to take Deputy Hallett home. However, two deputies referenced by Attorney Paulsen said they were advised to take Deputy Hallett back to a friend’s residence, where he may have been drinking. Leaving the scene could have made it more difficult hours later to establish Deputy Hallett’s condition. Who gave that order can’t be determined from the redacted material.

Sheriff Burns’s summary of his conversation with Chief Assistant District Attorney Kryistyna S. Mills over possible charges against Deputy Hallett is at odds with her recollection. Contrary to what the sheriff said, Chief A.D.A Mills says she did not advise the sheriff on what charges to lodge.

The Legislature’s inquiry is a start. However, it stops short of a broader, impartial look into a spate of other alleged misbehavior by sheriff’s deputies.

State Police are investigating suspended Undersheriff Andrew R. Neff for allegedly sending a woman lewd photos of himself. The county is defending a civil lawsuit against Detective Steven C. Cote for allegedly deceiving a female deputy into posing nude supposedly as part of another investigation.

Deputy James J. Randall was suspended for having a relationship with a woman with a criminal record, and Corrections officer Mark H. Kellogg faces a third-degree assault charge stemming from a bar fight. In the most recent incident, a nurse in the corrections division reportedly used her job to illegally access medical records of a non-inmate.

They call for a broader investigation into the management of the Sheriff’s Department and not just a narrow look at an egregious cover-up.

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