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County ponders next move after AG’s office meets with sheriff

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The attorney general’s office has found “weak spots” in Jefferson County Sheriff John P. Burns’s office procedures and will submit a public report on its recommendations by the end of the month.

Meanwhile, county officials are still angry at what Board of Legislators Chairwoman Carolyn D. Fitzpatrick, R-Watertown, called a “brush-off” by the state agency after the county asked it to investigate the Sheriff’s Department.

Deanna R. Nelson, public integrity officer and assistant attorney general in charge of the Watertown office, met Wednesday with Mr. Burns, who said their three-hour discussion went well but declined to elaborate.

“We’ve done what we should have done and they’re going to take a look at it. If they have recommendations, that’s great,” Mr. Burns said.

Michelle C. Hook, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said the sheriff was cooperative and the meeting was fruitful.

“We discovered some weak spots and some holes and are working on how to bridge those gaps to help him and the department seek corrective action for some of the problems the legislature has taken issue with,” she said.

After county legislators asked the attorney general’s office to conduct an external investigation of a Dec. 1 incident in the Sheriff’s Department, they received a written reply Monday saying it is the county’s responsibility to do so.

“As you are no doubt aware, County Law 209 empowers the County Legislature to ‘conduct an investigation into any subject matter within its jurisdiction, including the conduct and performance of official duties of any officer or employee paid from county funds,’” the letter read.

The response upset county officials.

“We reached out to the AG’s office with great respect and the Public Integrity Bureau ... and we got the brush-off,” Mrs. Fitzpatrick said. “And if anyone thinks that we didn’t, all they have to do is read that letter.”

“I want to know why they denied it. We haven’t received any explanation. Why didn’t they accept it? Why didn’t it fall under the Public Integrity Bureau? The community, the county, the taxpayers deserved more,” she said.

Ms. Hook, of the attorney general’s office, said, “We did not think our involvement was merited in this case based on the information they provided. We are happy to work with the Sheriff’s Department to amend their policies and procedures.”

County Attorney David J. Paulsen expressed disappointment that despite repeated attempts to reach out to the attorney general’s office, lawyers there seemed uninterested in his information or participation.

“If that’s the extent of their involvement, we should have been a part of that discussion,” he said of Ms. Nelson’s meeting Wednesday with the sheriff.

At Tuesday’s Board of Legislators meeting, Mrs. Fitzpatrick indicated that if all else fails, the county may consider asking the district attorney to appoint a special prosecutor to carry out the investigation.

District Attorney Cindy F. Intschert said she was waiting for the official outcome from the discussion between the attorney general’s office and the Board of Legislators, which she expects to receive shortly.

At that point, she said, she would take “whatever step I deem appropriate.”

In January, the county asked Mr. Paulsen to draft a resolution asking for the attorney general’s help in investigating the latest in a long string of alleged misconduct incidents involving the Sheriff’s Department.

That particular incident, involving a deputy who was found unresponsive in his patrol vehicle with an open bottle of bourbon several hours after he went off duty Dec. 1, was the subject of internal investigations by the sheriff and Mr. Paulsen. Contradictions in the reports led legislators to unanimously adopt the resolution drafted by Mr. Paulsen during a special session of the Board of Legislators.

The letter was sent at the beginning of February and certified mail delivery receipts from the attorney general’s office arrived in Jefferson County a few days later, though no official acknowledgement was ever received.

During February Mr. Paulsen twice attempted to contact the attorney general’s office with additional information about the incident, to no avail.

Mrs. Fitzpatrick called the attorney general’s office several times before finally speaking Feb. 26 to someone in the communications department who said the county’s letter had been put in the correspondence file.

According to Mrs. Fitzpatrick, a phone call from Ms. Nelson followed shortly after, and the attorney general’s response to the county was hand-delivered to Mr. Paulsen on Monday.

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