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Sheriff promises action in wake of jail incidents

GarrettTransparency is one of those buzz words you hear at election time. Taxpayers demand it and elected officials promise it. It can be very difficult to deliver transparency when a negative event happens, but that is precisely when open communication is needed most. Citizens need to trust we will hold ourselves accountable when it is most difficult.

As your elected sheriff, I write to you today about two separate jail employees who are accused of sexual misconduct while on duty. Neither employee has been convicted of a crime at this time, but the allegations against them are extraordinarily serious.

We received the first complaint on July 8. That day, we took immediate action and put the employee on leave. We notified an outside law enforcement agency and asked them to conduct a criminal investigation into the incident. The initial criminal investigation, grand jury indictment and subsequent arrest happened within nine days.

As soon as the employee was arrested, we were able to speak publicly and I directed that we publish a press release. I also directed that we take immediate steps to place the employee on unpaid administrative leave, which occurred when she returned from scheduled leave July 23.

Shortly after that arrest, we learned of similar conduct by another jail employee. Events of this type are very rare in our agency, and as you can imagine, we were shocked to learn there were two employees with sexual misconduct allegations so close together. We asked the outside investigators to continue their work into the second case, and that employee was arrested Aug. 19. That employee was placed on unpaid administrative leave Aug. 1.

Our work on these two troubling issues is nowhere near complete. Both employees face criminal charges, and it will take time for each to go through the court process. We are proceeding with Internal Affairs investigations to determine whether these employees violated our rules and standards and if disciplinary action is warranted, to include termination. We will expedite those investigations to the extent we can, but we must also respect the legal rights of the employees accused of misconduct.

Finally, we will conduct an intensive Administrative Review of each incident. The focus of those reviews is simple — we must learn from these incidents and use that information to improve our agency. We will look at how these events happened, and what changes we can make to prevent similar incidents in the future. I have directed staff to conduct a critical evaluation of all aspects of our jail operations, including training, supervision, equipment, communications and policies. At the conclusion of these reviews, I will consider the recommendations for improvement and direct changes as necessary.

As your sheriff, I wish I could promise we will never have another incident where an employee makes a bad decision, but that would be unrealistic. I can promise that I will do my best to ensure we remain transparent if something goes wrong; that we learn from failures; that we hold ourselves accountable; make corrections when appropriate; and that we strive to uphold the core values of our agency. In fact, our leaders and staff will accept nothing less.

You will hear more about the Sheriff’s Office and the various investigative outcomes in the news and from me directly.

We value your trust and we are honored to serve you.

Pat Garrett is sheriff of Washington County.




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