When a Columbia County resident is in need, a Columbia County sheriff's deputy is often the one who responds.
Not all are always pleased with their encounters, though. Of the 49 complaints issued against sheriff's office deputies in 2006, 12 were found to be justified, according to recently released sheriff's office statistics.
Capt. Steve Morris said such complaints aren't uncommon for any law enforcement agency.
"We would prefer not to (get complaints), but it is to be expected," he said. "Unfortunately, that is part of the business."
The number of complaints against sheriff's office employees had varied annually from 36 in 2004 to 62 in 2002. The office reported 43 complaints in 2005.
Morris said the office has a strict protocol about handling complaints against employees.
"All complaints against employees will be investigated," he said.
Depending on the complaint, it will be investigated by the employee's division superior officer or the office's Internal Investigations unit.
Ruby Paschal, of Martinez, filed a complaint against the sheriff's office in July, contending her 17-year-old son's bedroom was unlawfully searched. Paschal's son gave written permission to search his vehicle during a traffic stop, where what appeared to be marijuana seeds and stems were in view, according to a sheriff's office report. Her son then gave verbal permission to search his bedroom.
"I felt my home was illegally searched," Paschal said. "I don't feel him being stopped on the other side of town gives them the authority to come into my home and search it."
Paschal said she did not agree with the outcome of the investigation handled within the Patrol Division because it found that officers followed sheriff's office policy in their searches. She said she did feel the investigation of her complaint was conducted efficiently, however.
"It was in a timely manner," she said.
Paschal also said she felt that sheriff's employees stuck together and that the outcome came down to an officer's word over her own.
"They sent me a letter (with the disposition). It was done very quick," she said.
Nearly 75 percent of the complaints in 2006 accuse a sheriff's deputy or other sheriff's office employee of being discourteous or rude, of conduct unbecoming an employee or of minor unprofessional conduct.
Of those 36 complaints, eight were sustained, meaning they were found to be true. Twenty-one of those complaints were not sustained, meaning the claim was found to be false or there was no wrongdoing by the employee.
The remaining six complaints were deemed undetermined because it was unclear whether the incident occurred or there was not enough evidence to conclude whether the allegation was true or false.
Just because cases are investigated internally does not mean criminal charges won't be filed, Morris said.
Complaints can be made to the sheriff's office by a number of ways, including telephone, mail or e-mail.
"We will notify the complainant by letter or telephone of receipt of the complaint," Morris said. Complainants are kept informed through each stage of the investigation process through the final disposition.
"It could take a day or it could take a month, depending on the case," he said.
Kimberly Robinson, of Martinez, was notified by phone only a few days after the two complaints she filed last summer. One of her complaints involved a court appearance by her son and a deputy who volunteered information to a judge about her son's arrest.
When the Superior Court judge asked about removing leg shackles from Robinson's son, the deputy told the judge the defendant had kicked out a patrol car window while being driven to jail. The investigation revealed the officer was within her duty to report such a risk to the judge.
Conversely, Robinson was pleased with the outcome of her second complaint, which involved a jail deputy. She had claimed the deputy had improperly disposed of mail for her son while he was incarcerated.
The complaint was sustained and the deputy was counseled on the importance of following proper procedure and the serious nature of his actions.
Records about internally investigated complaints are closed until 10 days after a final disposition, when they become public record. Files on most investigations are kept for two years .
Files on sustained complaints are kept longer and for five years after an employee has left the sheriff's office, Morris said.
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