By Emily Bialkowski
Allegations of misconduct, employee reprimands and an overall sense of disappointment in Houston County law enforcement were aired at the Sept. 11 Houston County Board meeting.
Kevin Kelleher, resident, came forward to implore the board to take action on what he described as a general culture of “what can we get away with.”
“The mission of the sheriff’s department is to enforce law in Houston County, obey the law and be a role model. As long as we have a situation where no one is held accountable it goes on,” Kelleher said.
He specifically brought up a DVD copying case that first surfaced in 2009 and a more recent drag racing incident at the county airport that involved a sheriff’s deputy and City of Caledonia police officer.
A foggy wall between at least part of the board and the sheriff’s department appeared evident as Commissioners Jack Miller and Justin Zmyewski requested that the sheriff attend the next meeting. He was not present to address the comments.
Miller agreed with Kelleher’s observations and said, “There are outstanding allegations of misconduct that should be addressed. There is public concern and it’s an item of ridicule right now.”
Houston County Chief Deputy Scott Yeiter asked to address some of the points – mainly the DVD and drag racing incidents.
“The DVD issue has been here for 3.5 years and I’ll remind the board who told you about the DVD issue: It was the sheriff who came to a budget meeting in June 2009 and informed everybody at the meeting. There was no attempted cover up.
“There’s been multiple investigations, and as far as I’m aware there’s been cooperation from everybody involved.”
Both Kelleher and Miller refuted the idea that cooperation existed but no specifics were presented.
In addressing the airport drag racing incident of August, Yeiter said the deputy involved freely admitted his guilt and was internally coached.
“We were disappointed in him vehemently,” Yeiter said, adding that the deputy had no prior mar on his record.
Miller said he felt the punishment didn’t fit the offense. “It just seems to me that it is a little more egregious than something that is done by coaching.”
Miller continued, “I have had citizens ask me that if I get a speeding ticket do I get a DVD with it. They ask me, ‘How fast do those squad cars go, Jack.’ It’s embarrassing.”
But Yeiter argued that a few poor decisions should not shadow the daily effort of the sheriff’s department. “I believe our deputies do a great job. To try and paint with a wide brush is demeaning to the work that is done,” he said.
Kelleher spoke again and said, “I think the citizens of Houston County want their law enforcement to stop making stupid decisions.”
Despite the nature of the discussion, those involved remained civil.
In the end, the county auditor was instructed to ask the sheriff to attend the next board meeting.
Kelleher asked the board to take action on the situation.
“These are your employees and you need to take some kind of action to show the people of Houston County that the people that protect them obey the law,” he said.
DVD Copying: An outside investigation was conducted within the Houston County Sheriff’s Department – stemming from allegations from the summer of 2009 – after reports that sheriff’s department personnel were using county resources to illegally copy DVDs. The end result was a reprimand of IT Director Andy Milde and former finance director Casey Bradley.
Drag Racing: This incident occurred in August of this year and included a sheriff’s deputy and City of Caledonia police officer drag racing county and city squad cars, respectively, on the airport runway.
The sheriff’s deputy was internally disciplined, according to Houston County Chief Deputy Scott Yeiter, and had no prior offenses.
A City of Caledonia police officer was disciplined by the Caledonia City Council Aug. 13, though the reason for discipline was not given. His penalties include: suspension without pay for 160 work hours; to undertake a one-year probationary period; to complete nightly log sheets for one year; to undergo performance evaluations periodically during the probationary year.
Contact Emily Bialkowski at email@example.com.