Press-Republican

September 6, 2013

Legislators berate sheriff on staff's duties

By DENISE RAYMO
Press-Republican

---- — MALONE — Franklin County legislators tore into Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill on Thursday, suggesting they may cut his budget and reclassify deputies so they can’t make arrests.

He was called on the carpet two weeks after Legislator Guy “Tim” Smith (D-Fort Covington) was arrested by a sheriff’s deputy and charged with driving while his ability was impaired by alcohol.

At Thursday’s County Legislature meeting, Legislator Paul Maroun (R-Tupper Lake) demanded written proof from Mulverhill that, on Aug. 15, Deputy Luke Cromp was actually checking on sex offenders, not waiting to pull Smith over.

“I want to know where that (Sheriff’s Department) car was going that night,” he shouted at the sheriff. 

CAN MAKE ARRESTS

Cromp is one of eight Police Academy graduates on the sheriff’s staff who holds full policing powers, including the ability to make arrests.

Typically, their job involves serving civil summonses, eviction notices and other legal documents and checking on registered sex offenders.

But the police-trained deputies can make arrests or ticket alleged offenders if they see a crime or violation occurring.

According to figures tracked by Undersheriff Patrick White and provided to the Press-Republican on Thursday afternoon, deputies made 33 vehicle-and-traffic stops across the county between Jan. 1 and Sept. 4. 

They included drivers allegedly crossing the center lane of traffic; seat-belt violations; cellphone violations; a case of alleged driving while intoxicated in St. Regis Falls; and two incidents of alleged driving while the driver’s ability was impaired, one in Saranac Lake and the other in Westville.

ROADSIDE SOBRIETY TEST

Cromp reported that he pulled Smith’s car over on Route 37 near the Westville/Malone town line about 6 p.m. after observing it “driving erratically.” 

He conducted a roadside sobriety test with State Police assistance and charged Smith with DWAI and failure to stay in his own lane of traffic.

Smith, 71, who was absent during Thursday’s meeting with the sheriff but showed up as soon as Mulverhill left, pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to reappear at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 1 in Malone Town Court.

A special prosecutor will likely be named to handle the case because there is a conflict of interest since the County Legislature oversees the budget for District Attorney Derek Champagne’s office.

NO ROAD PATROL

The Sheriff’s Department budget was the reason Legislator Marc ‘Tim” Lashomb (R-Malone) gave to begin Thursday’s meeting with Mulverhill, questioning whether the sheriff is operating a road patrol.

Maroun said if that were the case, he’d want patrols covering Tupper Lake and other southern points in the county so he, as mayor of the Village of Tupper Lake, could cut one or two people on the municipal police force to save his taxpayers money.   

The sheriff said his budget and staff size wouldn’t allow for a road patrol.

He said he has two sergeants, a deputy on the midnight shift, a Civil Department deputy, a deputy assigned to the County Courthouse and three assigned to duties within the County Jail.

Legislator Gordon Crossman (D-Malone) asked if all three in-jail deputy positions are necessary since the training is expensive.

He wondered if the deputies could be reassigned as correction officers instead of deputies with police powers so they don’t need as much costly training.

DEPUTY NUMBERS

Mulverhill said state law requires a certain number of deputies, and according to Section 652 of County Law, as long as he stays within budget, “the sheriff may appoint as many regular deputy sheriffs as he may deem proper, but not exceeding one for every 3,000 inhabitants of the county. 

“The board of supervisors may, however, authorize appointment of such additional regular deputy sheriffs as it may determine.”

White told the Press-Republican later that 41 people work at the jail to cover 26 posts, but with regular days off, employees out on medical leave, vacation, sick days and regular days off, there are just 22 available to cover those posts, “so we begin four in the hole every day, and we still have to run a safe jail.” 

He said the Sheriff’s Department paid out 710 hours in overtime pay between Aug. 4 and 17 because there were not enough people for all of the required work shifts.

And that doesn’t count the outside trips that deputies make to the County Courthouse, White said, local courts or other appointment inmates might have on a given day or take into account supervision needed for visiting days at the jail where 655 people visited during the same two-week period.

‘RUN AMOK’

“You have run amok of this legislature,” Maroun hollered at the sheriff as the meeting continued. 

As he has done before, he publicly chastised Mulverhill for calling in the State Commission on Corrections at the beginning of his term in 2011, which forced the county to hire more correction officers at the jail to comply with mandated staffing numbers.

“I did my job,” the sheriff shouted back, adding that he can run the jail as he sees fit.

He said he answers to his constituency as an elected official, not to the County Legislature, even though legislators control his budget allocation.

Legislator Timothy Burpoe (D-Saranac Lake) questioned the sheriff about the daily roll call when, he said, jail staff reportedly talk about how ignorant and clueless legislators are about jail operations.

The sheriff said he’s not at every roll call but has not heard that kind of talk the times he has been present.

White, who runs roll call, told the Press-Republican after the session that legislators are bashed on occasion.

To cut the overall county budget in 2011, he said, legislators abruptly canceled an expected 3.5 percent raise that Sheriff’s Department union members expected to receive as part of a negotiated contract.

“How many people would be happy about that and speak well of the County Legislature?” White asked.

And a new contract, he added, is still being negotiated after two years.

Email Denise A. Raymo:draymo@pressrepublican.com