DAVIE OFFICE FACES PROBE
SBI Is Investigating Sheriff's Office For Possible Misconduct
For the second time this year, the Davie County Sheriff's Office is under investigation for possible criminal misconduct.
A major focus of the investigation, by the State Bureau of Investigation, is the apparent disappearance of two arrest warrants.
District Attorney Garry Frank confirmed last week that he asked the SBI to investigate the sheriff's office based on some "new information" he received.
Three months ago, Frank cleared the sheriff's office of any criminal wrongdoing after the SBI looked into a series of allegations, including misuse of county property and falsifying time cards, against Lt. Jimmy Phipps, the chief of enforcement for the sheriff's office.
Neither Frank nor Sheriff Allen Whitaker would discuss details of the new investigation, which has been going on for at least a month.
But multiple sources close to the sheriff's office described two incidents that they say are at the heart of the investigation.
One incident involves several bags of marijuana that were seized as evidence and were temporarily unaccounted for. The deputy who seized the drugs initially told his supervisor that he threw the drugs away, but later said that he took them to his girlfriend's house, the sources said.
The other incident, about which more details were available, involves arrest warrants that were issued against a person who was being investigated for impersonating a sheriff's deputy.
"The warrants have been issued. They're out there," said David Miller, the magistrate who issued the warrants.
Shortly after Miller issued them, the warrant papers disappeared from the patrol office, according to an account provided independently by current and former employees of the department. Most spoke only on the condition of confidentiality because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation or because they feared they would face retaliation from the sheriff's office.
There is no public record of the charges in the impersonation case. According to court officials, arrest warrants are normally added to the public record only after the suspect is arrested or, if the suspect cannot be found, after the papers are returned and filed as unserved.
Neither of those things happened with the warrants in question. No officer - - including Derek Pfaff, the deputy who pressed the charges - ever had a chance to serve the warrants because someone immediately pulled the papers out of circulation, sources say.
Whitaker denied that there has been any misconduct in the handling of the warrants.
"I can account for all the warrants," he said.
The warrants, he said, are "pending" because they contained some errors. He would not say what sorts of errors he was referring to, and he said he could not explain why there is no record of the warrants.
Pfaff resigned from the sheriff's office on July 31. He would not discuss the missing warrants because he said he does not want to jeopardize the SBI investigation. He did, however, say that he often felt harassed by Phipps and other supervisors in the department.
"Things go on, things get said to certain people," Pfaff said. "Someone questioning your reports, questioning the way you do things. There are no policies and procedures."
Pfaff added that he and other deputies were often assigned to undesirable shifts or duties - a complaint echoed by several other former employees.
If the warrants were intentionally pulled and concealed, it is not clear how serious a violation that would be. Several former employees familiar with the investigation said that the SBI may be looking into a possible obstruction-of-justice violation.
Vance McLaughlin, an associate professor of criminal justice at UNC Pembroke, said that intentionally preventing a warrant from being served could constitute obstructing justice, but that it would be hard to prove in court.
"It may be," McLaughlin said. "There would have to be certain things there and you would have to prove that the person did this for a purpose. They would come up with excuses, too: 'I had it in my briefcase' or 'I lost it.' You could have a hundred things."
Tue, 30 Aug 2005
Source: Winston-Salem Journal (NC)
Copyright: 2005 Piedmont Publishing Co. Inc.