There was a good editorial in Friday’s edition of the Laurinburg Exchange that pretty much summed up everything that we’ve been saying about Scotland County Sheriff Shep Jones over the past couple of months. I went to the Exchange website and tried to find a link to this editorial, but it doesn’t seem that the editors of the paper decided to post this on their site. Maybe it’s only meant for the folks who buy the hard copy edition of the paper (or maybe I’m just too tired after an extremely long day to be able to properly locate it. Who knows?… lol). Regardless, this editorial was well done and I decided to type it up, word for word, and share it with everyone. So here you go.
Our View: Oversight Leads To Problems
Laurinburg Exchange, Friday October 31, 2014
This week has brought to light yet another blight on the Scotland County Sheriff’s Office, one that could prove costly to a county already strapped for cash as those previously convicted grasp at new hope that maybe, just maybe, their case could be successfullyappealed if a judge rules that a “de facto” officer doesn’t have the authority to make an arrest. An appeal can be filed by anyone at anytime, but we don’t doubt this will give hungry defense lawyers fresh ammo.
District Attorney Kristy Newton has said she’s waiting to see if that argument holds any weight in court; but if the UNC School of Government’s interpretation of the statue is correct, “de facto” officers have the same authority as do those who were sworn in by a qualified official – leaving little cause to repeal a criminal charge on the basis that the deputy’s position was not valid at the time of the arrest.
Still, the improper oaths of office reflect poorly on the administration. Is it not Shep Jones’ job to know how to properly hire new deputies?
Yes, it is. But there is more than one party at fault. We doubt that every employer knows the ins-and-outs of each new-hire form or regulation in their company handbook – and in this case, no one bothered to look. Paperwork showing that Jones had sworn in the office’s new deputies had been presenting itself in county offices since 2007.
We spoke with at least one person, not quoted for our page 1A story, who was in a position to know but had never seen the statue – and had no idea that a sheriff was not authorized to swear in the deputies that he himself had hired.
Though we see no way that the sheriff could seek to gain from swearing in his own deputies, that’s certainly not the case for a cash-only fund supported by the salaries of off-duty officers. We believe, as Jones said, some good things were done with that money. But no matter what the fund was used for, the appearance is not wholesome.
And, as one reader pointed out in a letter to the editor, there is the issue with the $667 medallion – higher than the cost of a month’s rent for many local residents – purchased as a Christmas gift for Jones.And no, the Justice Department choosing not to file criminal charges does not mean that Jones did not conduct improper practices – it just means that the attorneys found no evidence of criminal intent. What went on during the SBI investigation can only be revealed in the snippets that are public record, which are a vague few. And again, how the fund continued to operate without the county’s knowledge is a mystery. At the very least, it should be noted that the office, with its sponsorships, donations and purchases, seemed to be spending beyond its means – at least those reported to the county in the sheriff’s budget.
Why were both of these issues allowed to go on for so long with no intervention, without notice? Where are the checks and balances? Those are questions for which we don’t yet have answers.
The one thing for certain is that both issues have added fuel to a heated race between Jones and opponent Ralph Kersey. And allegations we’ve heard, from supporters of both parties, have run the gamut. We don’t expect they will stop after this election, no matter who wins the majority vote.
Because as the question of who is watching the watcher, the answer will be the people.