September 10, 2013

Editorial: Legislators must back off


---- — Franklin County legislators’ criticism of the Sheriff’s Department looks alarmingly like retribution for the recent arrest of one of their own.

We remind them that the public is watching their reaction and will not tolerate action against law-enforcement officials for doing their job.

Here’s what unfolded. On Aug. 15, Deputy Luke Cromp saw what he later described as a car being driven erratically. Although Franklin County Sheriff’s Department does not have a designated road patrol, the officer certainly could not ignore what could be a drunken driver. We all know the dangers posed by people driving under the influence of alcohol, who steer themselves into the possibility of injuring or killing themselves or others.

Cromp pulled the car over. It was Fort Covington Legislator Guy “Tim” Smith at the wheel. The deputy conducted a field sobriety test, assisted by State Police. Police said Smith’s blood-alcohol level was between 0.05 and 0.08, the latter being the threshold for a DWI charge. We are told his number was 0.055.

Smith was charged with driving with ability impaired, which is not as serious a charge as DWI, and with failing to stay in his driving lane.

The case then headed to Malone Town Court, where Smith pleaded not guilty. It should have stayed in the court system from then on.

But instead, legislators pounced on Franklin County Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill at a public meeting, questioning whether his department was exceeding its duties in making arrests and threatening to cut his budget.

Why are county leaders suddenly suggesting that deputies can’t stop people who appear to be breaking the law? Franklin County deputies have made 32 other traffic stops this year. Deputies in Clinton and Essex counties also make stops and arrests. They are police officers, after all, and can’t ignore possible crimes.

Some legislators insinuated that the Sheriff’s Department might have been out to get Smith. Legislator Paul Maroun of Tupper Lake even demanded written proof that the deputy was checking sex offenders, as assigned, and not stalking Smith. Their outrageous conduct at the meeting showed an unacceptable bias against the department.

They were already irritated at Mulverhill, who made the “mistake” of going to the State Commission on Corrections about a staffing matter in 2011 without first consulting legislators. His inquiries resulted in a mandate for additional staff, not something county leaders were thrilled with.

And it doesn’t help that the sheriff lost his cool and shouted back at legislators at the recent meeting, reminding them that he works for the voters, not them — though he is absolutely right.

Legislators need to back away now and let this case be handled by the judicial system. And they must support the efforts of deputies to ensure that no laws are being broken.