Friday, May 11, 2018

Findings from State Comptroller/TBI investigation of Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department records

The following are the findings in a report from the Office of the Comptroller of the Treasury, in conjunction with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, from an investigation into pertinent records of the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department:

Finding 1
The sheriff and jail administrator violated multiple laws when they allowed inmates to leave the jail improperly.

  1. The sheriff and jail administrator exceeded their authority by allowing inmates to leave the jail unsupervised and without proper court authorization. Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA) states that only the “sentencing court shall have jurisdiction to grant furlough for any medical, penological, rehabilitative, or humane reason, upon conditions to be set by the sentencing court.”
  2. We reviewed the Furlough Book maintained in the Lawrence County Jail. It contained 101 entries from November 25, 2014 through May 4, 2017. Only 33 of those entries were properly authorized by a judge. We noted the following issues with some entries:

    a. There were 37 furloughs granted by either the sheriff, chief deputy, captain, or the jail administrator.

    b. There were 24 furloughs that did not have granting approval notated.

    c. There were seven furloughs granted by a staff member.

    d. The person’s name receiving the inmate was left blank in one entry.

    e. Destination of the furlough was left blank on 30 entries.

    f. The date of the furlough was noted in four entries.

    g. The person’s name returning the inmate was left blank on 56 entries.

    h. We noted that many of the entries were not legible.

  3. Our investigation determined that a Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) inmate housed at the Lawrence County Jail was being “loaned out” to sheriff department management and staff to help with chores at their personal property for things such as cleaning, repair work, lawn care, and painting. Additionally, we noted non-TDOC inmates were also “loaned out.” TCA deems it unlawful for a person responsible for supervising inmates of the Department of Correction to use inmates, or allow inmates to be used, for personal gain or to work on private property, except as provided by law, and is punishable as a Class E felony as per TCA.
  4. We also determined that inmates were being released to their family members who took them home or out of jail for the day. Inmates in the volunteer Work Release Program (WRP) should only be signed out to go with city, county, or nonprofit personnel who have completed the required supervisor class training. According to TCA, the sheriff is responsible for taking charge and custody of the jail of the sheriff’s county, and of the prisoners therein; receiving those lawfully committed, and keep them personally, or by deputies or jailer, until discharged by law.”
  5. We further discovered that inmates in volunteer WRP were not properly supervised. Instead, some of these inmates were dropped off at public locations and only checked on when the supervising individual had time. In some of these instances, we determined that inmates were visited by their family members, friends, or girlfriends, some with contraband. Having unsupervised inmates in public could potentially endanger the public and expose the county to liability.

Finding 2
The sheriff exceeded his authority and violated the law by releasing defendants on their own recognizance (ROR) or on a signature bond after a bond amount had been set by a judge or court official.
        In some instances, bond amounts were set by a court or magistrate, but the sheriff did not require the bond to be paid when the defendant left the jail. Consequently, the proper bonding documentation was not on file if the defendant failed to show up at the appointed time for court. Without collecting the bond as collateral, the courts have no means to recover costs associated with apprehending the defendant.
        We reviewed the bond reports from the court clerk’s office and questioned the sheriff on his acts of releasing defendants on ROR and signature bonds. During our interview, the sheriff acknowledged that he had been releasing defendants in this manner since he came into office in 2010. Also, he acknowledged that one of the judges will now have the defendant rearrested when they show up for their court date and make them pay the stated bond if the sheriff has bypassed the courts’ authority by releasing them on ROR or without a signature bond.
        Additionally, in reviewing the Jail Event Logs, we noted that het chief deputy and the captain also authorized the release of defendants on ROR or signature bond.
        TCA states that only a magistrate or trial court may release the defendant on the defendant’s own recognizance. The sheriff and his staff do not have the authority to authorize the release.

Finding 3
The sheriff accepted campaign contributions from families of individuals he released on their own recognizance or on a signature bond.
        “Our review of the sheriff’s campaign contributions indicated there were relationships on nine cases where the individuals released on their own recognizance or a signature bond were directly related to a campaign contributor. However, the judge had already set bail for these individuals. Additionally, we found approximately 20 more cases with family or close friends’ relationships to the sheriff’s contributions donor listing. These relationships present the appearance of the sheriff using his office to help families of those who contributed to his campaign fund in 2014, which could be a violation of ethics or his oath of office…

Finding 4
The sheriff failed to obtain the appropriate approvals and certifications for two sureties on a court-ordered appearance bond.
        The Lawrence County General Sessions Court ordered a defendant to appear in court after he was charged with several crimes and ordered the defendant to post a bond totaling $14,000. A defendant may execute a bail bond and secure it by entering into a written undertaking signed by the defendant and at least two sufficient sureties and having it approved by the magistrate or officer setting bail…A surety for this type of bail bond shall be deemed sufficient if it is certified by the circuit court clerk of the county where the defendant resides to the party accepting the bond…At a minimum, each of the sureties shall be worth the amount expressed in the undertaking…According to TCA, the sheriff is responsible for determining the sufficiency of the surety and the validity of the bond.
        For a particular appearance bond, there was no evidence of approval by the magistrate or officer setting bail, nor is there a certification from the court clerk, or any other evidence, as to the sufficiency of the sureties.
        On April 9, 2018 the defendant failed to appear in court, and the court issued a bond order against the Appearance Bond. However, the court’s recovery of the $14,000 as a bond forfeiture is now contingent on the ability of the defendant to pay, and if not able, the actual sufficiency of the sureties.

Finding 5
The sheriff held a warrant for 99 days before having the warrant served and the defendant arrested.
        We compared the warrants’ Criminal Papers Search Report and the jail’s Confined During Period Report with court records and determined that the sheriff held a warrant on a specific defendant that was issued on December 12, 2016, until April 11, 2017, a period of 99 days. The warrant was only executed after a call from the district attorney’s office. Under duties of the office for the sheriff, TCA requires the sheriff to:  Execute and return, according to law, the process and orders of the court of record of this state, and of officers of competent authority with due diligence, when delivered to the sheriff for that purpose…Execute all writs and other process legally issued and directed to the sheriff, within the county, and make due return thereof, either personally or by a lawfully appointed civil process server…

Finding 6
The sheriff violated multiple laws in his handling of a confiscated still and moonshine.
        We reviewed the sheriff’s department report related to a calla bout an active moonshine still. Officers confiscated the still and approximately 1.5 gallons of cooked moonshine, six pints of apple pie moonshine, one quart of unflavored moonshine, and one gallon of peach moonshine. Also, approximately 50 gallons of precooked moonshine or mash found had been poured out onsite by officers. The officers turned over the still and moonshine to Sheriff Brown on the same day it was collected…it was placed on the garage/sally port connected to the jail, and the moonshine was placed in the sheriff’s office.

  1. The seized items collected were not properly documented in the Evidence Log, nor was chain of custody established as per the sheriff’s General Order No. 48. The sheriff did not issue receipts to the confiscating officers for the still or the moonshine that he took possession of. TCA provides that every officer, other than the sheriff, taking into possession intoxicating liquors…shall within five days after so doing, deliver the intoxicating liquors to the sheriff of the county wherein the same was taken into possession, and the sheriff shall execute to the officer a receipt for same in writing showing the kind and quantity of intoxicating liquors so delivered, and the name or names of the person from whom the intoxicating liquors were taken…
  2. We interviewed the sheriff about the still and related moonshine. As of the date of the comptroller’s interview, February 5, 2018, more than 606 days after the confiscation, the sheriff’s department had not destroyed and rendered the still and worm coil condenser useless as required by TCA. The sheriff also stated that he poured out the moonshine and washed the containers in the dishwasher. The disposal was not properly documented or witnessed as he acknowledged it should have been, nor were the necessary reports written and sent to the courts or to the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission…In addition, if the intoxicating liquors are not summarily destroyed, and are either taken by the sheriff or delivered to the sheriff, the sheriff is required to safely keep the intoxicating liquors until ordered to dispose of them by court order…As per the sheriff’s admission, he disposed of the confiscated moonshine prior to the court ordering its destruction.
  3. …The possession of control of a still that is used or intended to be used for the purpose of manufacturing intoxicating liquor is unlawful and is punishable as a Class B misdemeanor. TCA requires officers “to make arrests of any and all persons implicated, aiding or abetting the manufacture of intoxicating liquors, and take them before the proper officials and have them tried on such charges.” The sheriff did not have the owners of the still and moonshine arrested since he felt the family had “enough trouble elsewhere.”

Finding 7
The captain at the sheriff’s department falsified his timesheet and lied to investigators.
        We reviewed certain documentation obtained from the State of Florida, the captain’s timesheets, county policies, and a written statement obtained from the sheriff. The violations of laws and policies include:

  1. The captain falsified his timesheet, which is a government record, indicating he worked on Friday, September 16, 2016, when he was in Florida on a personal trip in his Lawrence County assigned vehicle. We obtained the Florida Department of Transportation SunPass bill that time/date stamped his pass through the toll booth at 4:51 a.m., Central Standard Time, on Friday morning and identifies his license plate tag number and his vehicle along with a picture…
  2. The captain was paid $221.14 for the Friday he claimed to have worked but was in Florida. According to the Lawrence County Personnel Policy Manual, willful falsification of county records, employment applications, payroll, financial, insurance, etc., falsifying the time worked records or payroll is considered a “serious offense” and shall be just cause of termination without prior warning.
  3. The captain lied to investigators during our interview.
  4. During our interview with the sheriff and the captain regarding the use of the vehicle, the captain stated that he called the sheriff on Friday evening to ask permission to go to Florida, and he left for Florida after work hours. However, based on records obtained from Florida, the captain was already in Florida on Friday morning at 4:51 a.m.
  5. In addition, the captain claimed he was unaware that he violated county policy by taking his county vehicle out of state without proper county approval. However, the captain signed a statement on May 19, 2014 acknowledging that he received a copy of the personnel policies currently in effect, and that he understood that it was his responsibility to read and comply with the policies. Policy Number TR-2011, Section VIII. Travel Approval, clearly indicates that only the county executive can approve out-of-state travel, not the sheriff.
  6. We reviewed the fuel records of the captain and his assigned vehicle. The captain fueled his vehicle using his county fuel card on Thursday evening before he left for Florida. He charged $33.93 to the county for that purchase. There were no other charges in Florida or in route to and from Florida on the fuel card.
  7. Additionally, we noted seven instances where the captain used the county vehicle for personal use since he drove more miles than fuel he charged to the county fuel card. The captain appears to pay for fuel fill-ups while on personal business but may fill up before leaving or upon returning.

Finding 8
We noted deficiencies in timesheets and leave balances totaling $15,821.38.
        Our investigation identified the following deficiencies related to timesheets and the recording of leave earned and taken. These deficiencies can be attributed to the failure of management to adequately monitor and maintain time records of employees and the failure to hold employees accountable for submitting inaccurate timesheets.
Background Related to Timesheets:  Employees submit a timesheet monthly but are paid bi-weekly. The timesheet tracks the hours worked, leave earned/taken, leave balances, and the employee signs the timesheet. The timesheet is then provided ot the administrator who maintains a Microsoft Excel workbook that tracks leave and balances for each employee. After the administrator ensures the timesheets are accurate, he provides timesheets to the Office of Accounts and Budgets for the processing of payroll.
        According to LCPPM:  Employees shall work schedules as established by the elected official or department head. The employee is responsible for completing the Request for Leave Form in a timely manner before leave is taken. Leave is granted at the discretion of the elected official or department head under whom the employee works.

The sheriff is ultimately responsible for the time, leave, and schedule for everyone in the sheriff’s department. For the period of January 2016 through January 2017, we selected 11 employees at the sheriff’s department to review their time records.
We found the following:

  1. We compared Microsoft Excel workbook the administrator used to track leave balances to the timesheets. We determined the administrator did not appropriately account for time at the sheriff’s department resulting in annual leave being 860 hours more than actual, sick leave being 417.5 less than actual, and compensatory leave being 308.02 more than actual. This resulted in questioned costs of $15,821.38. More specifically, we found the following:
  2. Three of the individuals tested (27%) did not submit timesheets.
  3. Seven of the 11 individuals tested (46%) started a fiscal year with over the maximum allowed annual leave according to the personnel policy amendment.
  4. Three of the 11 individuals tested (27%) received incorrect amounts of annual leave on a routine basis. The personnel policy manual provides a set amount of annual leave based on experience.
  5. Four of the 11 individuals tested (36%) received compensatory time when compensatory hours were not earned.
  6. Five of the 11 individuals tested (45%) failed to report hours worked on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis on submitted timesheets.
  7. Two of the 11 individuals tested (18%) exceeded the maximum amount of compensatory leave for a total of 10 months during our time period.
  8. For the period tested. 209 timesheets should have been submitted by the 11 employees tested. We examined the timesheets to determine if they were submitted, approved, and adjusted appropriately. WE found the following:
  9. Three employees did not submit a total of 16 timesheets. The captain did not submit 10 timesheets, a secretary failed to submit four, and a lieutenant failed to submit two. It should be noted that employees were still paid, and no action was taken by the department.
  10. Of 193 submitted timesheets (209 minus16), 62 timesheets for nine of the 11 employees were not authorized by a supervisor and/or the chief deputy. Notably, another lieutenant had 19 timesheets, the administrator had 13 timesheets, and another secretary had 13 timesheets all of which were not approved.
  11. Of 193 submitted timesheets, 99 timesheets for nine of the 11 employees included adjusted amounts in the leave tracker on the timesheets. Most notably, the chief deputy had 19 timesheets adjusted due to him leaving his leave balance amounts blank, a lieutenant had 17 timesheets that were adjusted due to leaving balance amounts blank, and an assistant had 15 timesheets that were adjusted.
  12. The captain did not record any leave taken on all nine timesheets submitted during our time period. He claimed that because he works so much he does not record time off, nor does he record any compensatory time earned. Since he does not record compensatory time earned, he cannot take compensatory leave.
  13. The captain exceeded his authority when he authorized exceptions to county personnel policies and approved payment to an employee that should have been on leave-without-pay status. During the investigation, we determined that a secretary reached a negative 40 hours sick leave in March 2015, then continued to use her leave earned through August 2015, to offset the negative balance. She had already used her annual leave and compensatory time down to zero. The captain said to pay her and did not report the leave-without-pay status to the payroll clerk as was county policy. The secretary was paid $799.30. The secretary admitted that she did not submit a timesheet for about three months when she returned to work. The adjustments made to the Microsoft Excel workbook were in her favor but were not accurate.

According to LCPPM:
  Exhaustion of Sick Leave – Employees who have used all of their accumulated sick leave will not receive financial compensation for additional days needed due to illness or injury. For any additional time needed, the employee will be considered on leave without pay status unless the employee has accumulated vacation time or comp time remaining. The employee may request that additional sick leave be credited against the remaining vacation or comp time.

  1. Finally, we found the chief deputy used a signature stamp containing the signature of Sheriff Jimmy Brown to approve 18 of the 19 timesheets we reviewed. Furthermore, the chief deputy approved and documented as reviewed 18 of his own 19 timesheets. The chief deputy did not document that he reviewed the remaining timesheets.

Finding 9
We noted violations of county policies for county deputies also working for the Saint Joseph Police Department.
        The captain of the sheriff’s department is also the chief of police for the City of Saint Joseph Police Department in Lawrence County, Tennessee. We reviewed timesheets for 10 officers who worked for both the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department and the Saint Joseph Police Department to determine if the officer was approved to work for both, worked at both places on the same day, took extended leave at one and worked the other, or worked improper shifts at Saint Joseph Police Department. We found the following:

  1. Six officers each worked a combined 17-plus hours day at both the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department and the Saint Joseph Police Department a total of 37 times, totaling 686 hours from April 4, 2016, through January 24, 2017. Most notably, one deputy worked 22 days; 17-plus combined hours on those days totaling 398 hours.
  2. The captain exceeded his authority when he authorized exceptions to county personnel policies for two deputies that took extended sick leave from the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department but worked at Saint Joseph Police Department during that time. One deputy worked a total of 159 hours, and the other deputy worked a total of 41 hours at the Saint Joseph Police Department. Both deputies used their sick leave as paternity leave; however, they failed to follow the county personnel policy by working a part-time job while on leave.

  Additionally, the captain exceeded his authority when he authorized exceptions to county personnel policies for the one deputy who used sick leave from August 15, 2016 to November 4, 2016, for a total of 12 weeks. The deputy’s wife also works for the sheriff’s department and used sick leave. This is a violation of the paternity leave policy since it exceeds 12 weeks for a combined married couple of the county. During an interview, the deputy stated the captain authorized him to take the leave. The captain does not have the authority to authorize this deviation of policy.

Finding 10
We noted discrepancies in the payments of compensatory time at the sheriff’s department.
        In interviews with supervisory personnel at the sheriff’s department and with the accounts and budgets office, payments for compensatory time generally only occur when a person has ended employment and follows the annual leave guidelines for payout. Employees stated they were not allowed to receive compensatory time payments. But during interviews with investigators, chief deputy admitted he had received two payments of compensatory time, once under the previous administration and once under Sheriff Brown when he took office. The LCPPM Wage and Hour Policies provides; an employee cannot “accrue more than…480 hours of compensatory time shall be paid for any additional overtime that is worked.” As noted, two employees exceeded the maximum amount of compensatory leave for a total of 10 months during our time period. According to county policy, the employees should have been paid and not allowed to exceed the 480 hours.





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