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DA to ask if a special prosecutor should investigate Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department

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The next chapter in an ongoing Jefferson County saga is about to begin.

Jefferson County District Attorney Cindy F. Intschert will ask County Court this week if her office should seek a special prosecutor to look into how the Sheriff’s Department handled a case in which one of its deputies is suspected of drunken driving.

“I do intend to make an application to determine whether this office has a conflict of interest that would require the appointment of a special prosecutor to review the department’s handling of the alleged incidents of Dec. 1 or whether the decision of what, if any, further review or action to be taken should remain with this office,” Ms. Intschert said.

Sheriff John P. Burns told the Times that Ms. Intschert told him of her plans during a Monday morning phone conversation.

“I’m all for it. Let’s get it over and done with,” Mr. Burns said, asserting that his department has taken all the correct steps and has done nothing wrong in its handling of the case.

That case, which prompted the county Board of Legislators to request an independent investigation by the state attorney general’s office, involves Deputy Adam B. Hallett, who was found unresponsive in his patrol vehicle off the side of the road in the town of Henderson several hours after he went off duty Dec. 1.

Investigations into the incident by Mr. Burns and county attorney David J. Paulsen revealed that Deputy Hallett had a bottle of Jim Beam Red Stag bourbon whiskey in his vehicle’s center console and that proper law enforcement procedures were not followed at the scene.

That bottle was thrown into a field after it was discovered by Deputy Matthew A. Vaughn, who noted that it appeared to have been opened when he removed it from the vehicle.

Deputies Hallett and Vaughn were the subject of internal disciplinary action within the department but no criminal charges were ever filed, and both remain on duty.

The decision by Mrs. Intschert came shortly after the state attorney general’s office opted not to get involved with the case beyond meeting with the sheriff about his policies and procedures.

In a letter to the county Legislature, Deanna R. Nelson, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Watertown office, emphasized that the county had the power and jurisdiction to prosecute the case on its own.

Michelle C. Hook, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said the case did not merit the involvement of the attorney general, based on the information provided by the county.

A report based on Ms. Nelson’s meeting with Mr. Burns identified three major deficiencies in the department: a lack of a clear procedure to follow when staff are involved in potential misconduct, a lack of performance evaluations, and a lack of an accreditation program that would provide professional review and recommendations on an ongoing basis.

Mr. Burns said that he was happy with the suggestions in the report and that he had been working on instituting those policies for some time.

Legislators, however, were not satisfied with the response from the attorney general’s office and pledged to pursue other options to resolve the matter.

“I know what happened in December seems like a long time ago, but the people of the county have asked for this and they deserve answers,” Legislature Chairwoman Carolyn D. Fitzpatrick said.

The Legislature was largely underwhelmed with the report from the attorney general’s office.

“I believe the report does give the opportunity to go in the right direction to help the sheriff,” Mrs. Fitzpatrick said. “But when the Sheriff’s Department discusses the need for more training I’m going to say, ‘Training or no training, many of the individual officers in this situation knew right from wrong from the start. All the training in the world wasn’t going to change their minds when they made the right or wrong decision.’”

Depending on the determination of the court, either Ms. Intschert or the special prosecutor will decide whether to bring the case before a grand jury.

A grand jury can bring criminal charges against the individuals involved in the incident.

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