Sheriff Ricky Headley is a Drug User keeps his Job Feb 7, 2007 13:09:59 GMT -5
Post by WaTcHeR on Feb 7, 2007 13:09:59 GMT -5
Williamson County Sheriff Ricky Headley[/img]
Unless he resigns, Williamson County Sheriff Ricky Headley probably will remain in office until drug charges against him play out in court, officials said.
Headley, 43, checked himself into a 30-day drug treatment program Thursday, a day after he was arrested at a south Nashville drugstore and charged with two counts of fraudulently obtaining prescription pills.
The county's chief deputy is now running the department's day-to-day operations. But while he's in rehab, Headley retains his authority as the county's top cop and still gets the sheriff's salary — he makes $101,700 a year, according to Williamson County Budget Director David Coleman.
That shocks some county residents, like Mark Eagle.
"This is the same guy that came to my daughter's elementary school to advocate the (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program," Eagle wrote in an e-mail to The Tennessean. "Wonder how many pills he took before or after the visit. My vote — get him out of the sheriff's office now. No discussion, no options, now."
But until an officeholder accused of wrongdoing is convicted in court, it's tough to force that person out of office, according to Sumner County District Attorney General Ray Whitley.
"It all goes back to the Constitution — a person is innocent until proven guilty," said Whitley, whose office is prosecuting a former sheriff accused of wrongdoing in Sumner County.
Until a sheriff or other elected official chooses to resign from office in the midst of an investigation or is found guilty of criminal charges and removed, he'll usually stay in office, Whitley said.
Tennessee does have an ouster provision, under which residents can petition the state to remove an elected official who misbehaves in office.
Usually, Whitley said, a criminal case against a sheriff or other elected official will supercede an ouster effort.
"It would take longer for an ouster to come to trial," he said. "It's a matter of practicality."
Public often decides
For many Tennessee sheriffs accused of public wrongdoing, it's been the electoral process — not the court system — that ends up yanking their badges.
Fate Thomas, longtime sheriff of Davidson County and a huge political figure in Nashville, pleaded guilty in 1990 to three federal felony counts of misusing Metro money to renovate his house and cabin, orchestrating kickbacks and setting up payroll accounts for employees who didn't exist so he could keep the money.
He was indicted as he prepared to mount a re-election campaign. He maintained his innocence and stayed in the race but lost the Democratic primary for the office three months later.
Thomas resigned from office July 16, 1990, a day before pleading guilty. He was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to repay $80,000. He died in 2000.
In a current case, former Sumner County Sheriff J.D. Vandercook is awaiting trial on several federal charges, including money laundering. He is accused of secretly channeling more than $70,000 in taxpayer funds to his brother Jerry to build a county garage and then trying to cover up the transaction.
Vandercook was indicted in March. He'd announced that he wasn't seeking re-election in August, and he remained on the job until the newly elected sheriff took office. Sumner County commissioners debated a resolution calling for his resignation, retirement or ouster, but it failed to get the 16 votes needed for passage.
Both Vandercooks have pleaded not guilty to charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and misapplication from an agency that receives federal funds. The former sheriff is scheduled to go to trial Feb. 20.
Vandercook's predecessor and former boss, Richard Sutton, also got in trouble with the law during his time as sheriff.
In 1993, Sutton was accused of removing prescription drugs and marijuana from his daughter's car after she was pulled over on suspicion of drunken driving. His daughter was a sheriff's deputy at the time.
He was indicted the next year on charges of evidence tampering and official misconduct. Those charges were suspended later that year when he chose not to run for sheriff again after 18 years in the office. He ran for the office again in 1998, losing to Vandercook. He died in 2001.
Sheriffs' standards high
Because they're elected and not hired like city police chiefs and deputies, sheriffs are often held to a higher public standard, said Maggi McLean Duncan, executive director of the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police.
When law enforcement executives find themselves on the wrong side of the jail door, it can often create "trust issues" within the community they're paid to protect and a drain on morale within their departments, she said.
"I can say it is a black eye on all law enforcement when something like this happens," Duncan said.
"Even though we all supposedly live in a world where you are innocent until proven guilty … the media makes sure you're guilty until proven innocent," she said.
Chief Deputy Dusty Rhoades, Headley's second in command in Williamson County, said he's running the department in the sheriff's absence. Rhoades said he hasn't talked to Headley since he checked into rehab.
"Morale is getting better each day," Rhoades said. "The first two days, it was like getting hit in the chest with a sledgehammer.
"Everybody's getting over the initial shock and moving along," he said.