A sham investigation by Jefferson County Sheriff John P. Burns into the actions of one of his deputies in December 2012 led to scant evidence of illegal activity and ultimately no criminal charges filed.
Mr. Burns asserted that he would thoroughly review an incident in which Deputy Sheriff Adam B. Hallett was found asleep at the wheel of his patrol vehicle which was running on Dec. 1, 2012, off the side of County Road 72 in the town of Henderson, according to a report. Mr. Hallett is a canine handler for the Sheriffs Department, and his dog was in the car as was a partially consumed bottle of whiskey, the report said. Mr. Hallett was off duty at the time he was found.
Deputy Sheriff Matthew A. Vaughn responded to a call from a passerby that Mr. Hallett looked unresponsive inside his running vehicle, according to the report. Mr. Vaughn removed the bottle of liquor from the car and threw it into a field. An ambulance and state trooper arrived on the scene, but Mr. Vaughn waved them on, the report said.
Mr. Hallett was not placed under arrest at the time of the incident. Mr. Vaughn called Mr. Burns, who instructed his deputy sheriff to secure the patrol vehicle in the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Buildings garage and make sure Mr. Hallett was driven home.
Oneida County First Assistant District Attorney Michael A. Coluzza was appointed as the special prosecutor to handle the case. Jefferson County Judge Kim H. Martusewicz ruled that Jefferson County District Attorney Cindy F. Intschert had a conflict of interest and should not take it.
Mr. Hallett was at some point charged with having an open container of alcohol in his vehicle, but even this charge could not be sustained. Mr. Coluzza said Tuesday that no criminal charges will be brought at this time.
Mr. Coluzza said he could not confirm that the matter was presented to a grand jury. If it were, and the jury ruled that there was insufficient evidence to support criminal charges, the matter would result in a no-bill in which the results would be sealed from the public as no prior charges had been brought, according to a Wednesday story in the Watertown Daily Times.
This whole episode stinks because proper procedures were not followed.
First of all, Mr. Vaughn should have recognized the conflict of interest in this case and allowed the state trooper to begin the criminal investigation. Mr. Hallett should have been placed under arrest at the scene, which would have allowed the state trooper to conduct a Breathalyzer or blood-alcohol content test so evidence of intoxication could have been preserved.
Mr. Vaughn should have left the bottle of whiskey where it was inside the car, not thrown it into the field. He was potentially tampering with evidence, and its clear from his initial actions that he had no intention of investigating this as a possible crime. He and Mr. Burns wanted to sweep the whole thing under the rug and hope that no one was the wiser.
So its convenient for the sheriff deputies involved as they get to keep their jobs and dont face any prison time. Mr. Burns claims that they were disciplined internally, even though he refuses to state what actions against them were taken.
Its also convenient for Mr. Burns as he gets to claim that the matter has been investigated and is now closed. Its convenient for Mr. Coluzza who now doesnt have to prosecute law enforcement agents. And its convenient for members of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators who can wash their hands of the whole ordeal.
The only people this result isnt convenient for are the ones who really count. This is not at all convenient for the residents of Jefferson County who depend on the Sheriffs Department to help provide public safety.
How can any of us have confidence in an agency charged with enforcing the laws when they cant follow them? And when some members of this agency are caught potentially violating the law, the head of the department sees to it that they wont be found guilty of anything.
This is just one example of the dismal leadership within the Sheriffs Department. Mr. Burns cannot run a professional law enforcement agency, and the County Board will not lift a finger to force his hand.
So when it comes to ensuring that members of the Sheriffs Department are doing their jobs, whos really minding the store? And if the answer is No one, how exactly are our tax dollars being used in this agency?