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Reports: deputy threw away booze found in Hallett’s car

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A Jefferson County sheriff’s deputy threw a bottle of Jim Beam Red Stag bourbon whiskey into a Henderson field after he found it in Deputy Adam B. Hallett’s patrol vehicle.

That bottle is the only evidence of a crime in the latest in a string of incidents of alleged misconduct plaguing the sheriff over the past year.

It also is the one common statement and the smoking gun in two conflicting reports delivered by county attorney David J. Paulsen and Sheriff John P. Burns during a special meeting of the Board of Legislators on Tuesday.

After mulling over the reports, the board came out of a closed-door executive session to vote unanimously to call for an outside investigation into the Dec. 1 incident in which Deputy Hallett was found asleep in his patrol vehicle off County Route 72 several hours after he went off duty.

The two reports were released to the media Wednesday with some names and sentences redacted.

Mr. Burns says in his report that he received a phone call sometime after 9 p.m. Dec. 1 relaying that an unnamed deputy had discovered Deputy Hallett, who “appeared to have been drinking,” in his vehicle off the side of the road.

The sheriff asked if the patrol vehicle or any property had been damaged. He was told no.

Mr. Burns asked if anyone had witnessed Deputy Hallett driving or had lodged a complaint against him. Again, he was told no.

Mr. Burns then asked if anyone knew how Deputy Hallett had arrived at his current location. For a third time, he was told no.

Mr. Burns then instructed that Deputy Hallett’s vehicle be placed in the garage of the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building and that Deputy Hallett be taken home.

Mr. Burns launched an internal investigation into the matter Dec. 20, after learning “additional information.” He promised an outcome that would be “nothing less than would have occurred with any other citizen of Jefferson County.”

When Mr. Burns announced that he was charging Deputy Hallett with an open-container violation Jan. 10, he told the Times that he was not called to the scene that December day, nor was he advised of all the circumstances.

Mr. Burns made no mention of a witness in his report.

This contradicts Mr. Paulsen’s report, which includes details about how Deputy Hallett was discovered slumped over his steering wheel by two witnesses who then called 911. The witnesses reported that the vehicle’s engine was running and its parking lights were on.

Deputy Hallett, who is a K-9 officer, had his dog in the vehicle. The deputy was unresponsive to the point that he could not raise his arms. When he did speak, he identified himself as Mark Hallett, Mr. Paulsen’s report says.

The unnamed deputy in the reports is believed to be Matthew A. Vaughn, who was the subject of undisclosed disciplinary action for not following the appropriate procedure at the scene.

Mr. Burns has never disclosed what disciplinary measures he took against Deputy Vaughn. In his report, he states that an unnamed deputy “has been disciplined in the above matter and has been given a counseling memo.” Another deputy was “instructed on properly passing pertinent information on to his supervisors” and was counseled on his oath of office.

Mr. Paulsen’s report states a third deputy was contacted by cellphone the night of the incident. That deputy is unnamed.

Mr. Burns’s report says that he was advised of the incident after an unnamed sheriff’s sergeant contacted another unnamed member of the department, who then called Mr. Burns.

According to Mr. Paulsen’s report, Deputy Hallett told Deputy Vaughn that he had come from a friend’s house “just around the corner” on County Route 123. He said he was very tired and wanted to go home.

Deputy Vaughn noted that his colleague was “slow in speech and acted somewhat intoxicated.”

Henderson Ambulance and a state police unit responded to the scene. They were sent away by Deputy Vaughn.

It was then that Deputy Vaughn noticed a bottle of liquor in the center console of Deputy Hallett’s vehicle. Deputy Hallett told him it was a Christmas gift.

Deputy Vaughn removed the bottle from the vehicle, noted that it appeared to have been opened, and threw it into a field, the report says.

Deputy Hallett and the K-9 were taken to a nearby residence until a friend came to retrieve them.

Deputy Hallett’s sidearm, shotgun and taser were returned, along with the vehicle, to the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building.

According to the sheriff’s report, when confronted about the incident, Deputy Hallett stated that he “messed up.” He told the sheriff that he had stopped by a friend’s house for a short time and drove out to County Route 72, where he pulled over off the road to think. Mr. Burns suspended Deputy Hallett without pay for 10 days and restricted use of his patrol vehicle to time at work for 60 days.

The sheriff’s report includes a paragraph that outlines discussions among Mr. Burns, Lt. Kevin M. Amann and Chief Assistant District Attorney Kristyna S. Mills.

Mr. Burns’s report states “I gave (Mrs. Mills) the folder and asked her to read the statements and she what she thinks. Chief A.D.A. Mills read all the statements and stated, ‘you have nothing.’ I asked her what about an open container and she stated ‘at best.’”

Mr. Burns’s version of events contradicts the version Mrs. Mills reported to the Times on Friday.

According to Mrs. Mills, “(The sheriff) handed me the file. He said, ‘This is what I see. I only see an open container. I want to make sure I’m not missing anything. Do you agree?’”

Mr. Burns also states in the same paragraph that Mrs. Mills said, “We have no witnesses, we have no complainant who saw him driving or driving in a reckless manner. We have no one that can tell us how Deputy Hallett arrived at where he was on County Route 72.”

According to Mr. Burns, Mrs. Mills said she spoke with every assistant district attorney in her office and explained to them the case, and all agreed that there was no driving while intoxicated.

Mrs. Mills told the Times on Wednesday that Mr. Burns’s statement was not entirely accurate.

She said that before meeting with the sheriff, she laid out a hypothetical scenario similar to what had occurred with Deputy Hallett to quite a few of her colleagues and that all agreed that “based on the evidence,” a DWI charge would not hold up in court.

Commenting on the sheriff’s report, Legislator Michael J. Docteur, R-Cape Vincent, said, “The document speaks for itself. It begs for more information as to what happened that night.”

“There was enough information to say, ‘Let’s get another party in there to investigate,’” said Philip N. Reed, R-Fishers Landing.

Robert J. Thomas, R-Glen Park, a police officer for 48 years and former police chief of Brownville, Dexter and Glen Park, said he was motivated to call for the outside investigation by a desire to relieve the sheriff of the burden of having to investigate his own department.

“We’re all working as a team, and I want to stress team, to resolve this matter and move on,” Mr. Thomas said. “I don’t have any problem with John Burns’s leadership.”

Legislator Scott R. Gray, R-Watertown, chairman of the Finance and Rules Committee, made the motion to seek an outside investigation. He has been the most outspoken proponent of such a probe since the subject was broached.

Now that the prospect of an outside investigation is becoming a reality, Mr. Gray has tempered his vehemence and said he is content to await the outcome of the investigation.

“Before we pass judgement on anybody, we need an outside set of eyes,” Mr. Gray said.

Ronald H. Cole, chairman of the Jefferson County Democratic Committee and another former police chief, was at the Legislature’s special session Tuesday night to lend his support to Mr. Burns, a Democrat.

Mr. Cole acknowledged that the incident was a difficult one for the sheriff.

“The deputy had alcohol in the vehicle and that’s a no-no. ... Law enforcement personnel are held to a much higher standard,” Mr. Cole said.

Mr. Docteur said he would have liked to see sheriff’s deputies holding their peers to the same standards to which they hold the public.

According to Mr. Gray, this incident has captured so much attention because it is something to which the public can relate. Most people either know someone who has been cited with DWI or have been charged with it themselves, he said.

The Board of Legislators has recessed until next Tuesday, when it will hear Mr. Paulsen’s resolution with a recommendation as to who will conduct the investigation.

The report written by Sheriff John P. Burns can be found at http://bit.ly/SCAsr2.

The report written by county attorney David J. Paulsen is at http://bit.ly/WLZq5B.

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