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County must act now

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The state attorney general delivered a clear message to the Jefferson County Legislature this week, telling members that the county has plenty of authority to investigate the haze of disorganization which plagues its Sheriff’s Department. The attorney general also reminded the Legislature that the district attorney has the power to investigate “crimes and offenses cognizable by the courts of the county.”

The Legislature took the easy way out when it asked the attorney general to intervene to determine what happened with the case of Deputy Adam B. Hallett, who was found with an open alcoholic beverage container in his patrol car. 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 John P. 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.”

The attorney general in effect is reminding the legislators that the Sheriff’sDepartment is paid by county taxpayers and the Legislature and district attorney are empowered to investigate what happened.

The county has subpoena power to call all participants to testify under oath and can examine all records relevant to the investigation. District Attorney Cindy Intschert has the authority and obligation to investigate just how the Sheriff’s Department engineered the destruction of evidence in the Hallett case. She also can empower a grand jury investigation.

Little has changed while the attorney general decided whether to take the case. In fact, things deteriorated. Last week the sheriff threatened to withdraw police presence from the airport despite a federal subsidy covering the expense. That action, which threatened the viability of air service in the county, was done with reckless disregard of thousands of customers relying on the American Airlines air service.

An investigation must examine the cloud over the Sheriff’s Department, beginning with Deputy Vaughn’s initial investigation of his fellow officer’s intoxication, and then the performance of several fellow officers accused of misconduct recently:

n Undersheriff Andrew R. Neff, who resigned during a state police investigation of 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.

The Legislature needs to decide on a course of action. The choice is simple. Either an investigation is launched by the district attorney. Or, if she abdicates, then it is up to the board.

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