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Job Security: Indicted Sheriff Keeps Job

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  • Job Security: Indicted Sheriff Keeps Job

    I recently read an article that caused me great concern. It highlights the lack of accountability that Virginia sheriffs enjoy, and the lack of an adequate process to quickly remove them from office when necessary.

    A federal indictment dated October 22, 2008, charged Page County (Virginia) Sheriff Daniel Presgraves with twenty-two counts of offenses, including racketeering. Yet a judge recently refused to honor a petition signed by over 800 Page County voters, seeking to initiate the removal of Sheriff Presgraves from his office (article.)

    The indictment cites allegations that Daniel Presgraves engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment directed towards several of his female at-will employees, that he accepted a cash bribe to discourage deputies from intervening in cockfighting, and that he improperly kept money that should have gone to his county. Additionally, the indictment states that he discouraged his at-will employees from cooperating with federal investigators.

    This case demonstrates the absolute power that a Virginia sheriff gains upon being elected. Even when numerous witnesses come forward, some of whom risk being fired without due process, and voters sign a removal petition, the sheriff is allowed to keep his job. I hope that this case will serve as an example that will cause our legislators to reform the Virginia sheriff system as we know it.

    Legislators should put in place job protections for deputies, so deputies are not afraid to be whistle-blowers when they observe corrupt activity. Legislators also need to put in place a recall mechanism that will facilitate rapid removal of a sheriff when clear and convincing evidence indicates that the sheriff can not be trusted to carry out his duties.

  • #2
    I don't think your fight is with the powers of the Sheriff as much as it is with the rights of elected officials in general.

    Each state has procedures for the removal of elected officials, irrespective of what office they hold. I don't believe an indictment without a conviction is grounds for removal. Similarly, a petition signed by 800 voters would be legally meaningless. Instead, you would need a recall election with whatever percentage of people voting for removal as are required by state law.
    Going too far is half the pleasure of not getting anywhere

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    • #3
      L-1, while I respect your opinion, I believe that this is a case in which the petition was filed in accordance with procedures to initiate removal from office. Apparently a judge dismissed the petition due to a concern about its wording - a technicality.

      Additionally, I believe that Presgraves was able to get away with many of his shenanigans for a long time, because he has the power to terminate any employee without stating a reason. I don't think most people who have any significant amount of time invested towards retirement would be very eager to come forward with allegations about their employer. Therefore, Virginia sheriffs should be required to articulate a valid reason for terminating an employee.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Medavoy View Post
        L-1, while I respect your opinion, I believe that this is a case in which the petition was filed in accordance with procedures to initiate removal from office. Apparently a judge dismissed the petition due to a concern about its wording - a technicality.
        It still sounds like your problem (as far as removal) is with the process.

        We had the same issue here. Our Sheriff was indicted by the Feds and is currently on trial. The County Board of Supervisors wanted to oust him but discovered state law prohibited his removal unless he was convicted or a felony, was removed by a recall election or was absent from office for more than 60 days.

        The only thing that got him to resign was the price of his legal defense. It was going to cost over a million dollars and he did not have that kind of money. A law firm offered to defend him for free, but as a public official, it would be illegal for him to accept a "gift" of that amount. He had to resign in order to legally accept the gift.

        As far as the Sheriff's ability to hire and fire, it sounds like you still have the patronage system back there, where the elected official gets to hire, fire, promote or demote at will. I am surprised spoils systems like that still exist, but if they do, it apparently reflects the collective will of the people as they would have changed it had the majority wanted otherwise. My grandfather worked under such a system. Depending on who was in power and how much he was liked (or disliked), he was a police sergeant under one administration, the Fire Chief under another, and the graveyard shift watchman at the town's produce sheds under a third administration. I also had a friend who used to alternate between deputy, detective and Lieutenant, depending on who had been elected Sheriff in his agency and how much he was liked. I understand the frustration. Best of luck with any enabling legislation that will change things to civil service.
        Going too far is half the pleasure of not getting anywhere

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