Mediation recommended following investigation into sheriff complaint

By Sarah Hawley -

POMEROY — An investigation into allegations against Sheriff Keith Wood by Deputy Sgt. Curtis Jones has been completed and the report released.

Earlier this year, the Meigs County Commissioners requested an independent investigation into a complaint filed against Sheriff Wood by Deputy Sgt. Jones. The investigation and resulting report were completed by Stan Molnar of Molnar Investigations, Albany, Ohio, at a cost of $1,020.

In the report, Molar discusses the interviews conducted, his conclusion and recommendations of changes to be made to help resolve the situation.

The report itself is seven pages, followed by attachments including a chain of command chart and policy manual for the sheriff’s office.

“My task at the initiation of this inquiry was to investigate the claims of Deputy Sergeant Jones that the Sheriff had made a hand gesture towards he and his wife during the Fourth of July parade in Racine, Ohio. There was in fact an incident, Deputy Jones’ wife, Kimberly Jones was wearing a t-shirt of the Sheriff’s opponent, Mony Wood. The Sheriff did make a comment to Sergeant Jones suggesting that he should have one also. When questioned about the incident, Sheriff Wood admitted to making a gesture and statement, but added it was lighthearted and he meant no ill will towards Deputy Sergeant Jones,” stated Molnar.

“The issue here is not about the complainant’s wife wearing a t-shirt. Deputy Sergeant Jones feels that he has been singled out for a long time and suggests that the Sheriff and Major Trussell are out to get him fired. A review of the disciplinary file for Deputy Sergeant Jones establishes a pattern of minor incidents which could have been handled differently thereby eliminating this rift,” states Molnar.

Molnar focuses on one specific incident from April 2019 when Sgt. Jones was called back into work after coming off a 12-hour shift. In that instance, a deputy had become sick and Jones was contacted by the dispatcher to come back to work.

“Sergeant Jones advised the dispatcher that he had already taken his prescribed medication and felt uncomfortable driving. According to Jones, he received another call ordering him to return to work,” stated Molnar. The investigator noted that Jones takes medication to assist him in falling asleep.

The report further states, “According to reports Major Trussell advised that Jones had to come to work. Jones returned to work. Sergeant Jones subsequently filed a grievance, which was subsequently submitted to arbitration. Sergeant Jones was charged with violating Sheriff’s Office Policy and Procedures for failing to advise his superiors as to the medication he was taking. … Jones was subsequently served a notice that he was being placed on administrative leave as well as notice to appear for a hearing. According to Jones, the officers took his cruiser, uniforms and all Sheriff’s Office gear. The matter was settled after Jones took and passed a Fit for Duty examination.”

Seven additional incidents were also noted in Molnar’s report, taking place from March2016 to March 2019.

“With the exception of the dispatcher incident, for which Deputy Jones readily admitted he was wrong, the remainder of the incidents are minor in nature,” stated Molnar. According to Molnar’s report, the incident involving the dispatcher was summarized as follows, “Deputy Sergeant Jones was given a detail to pick up donated items by a dispatcher. Deputy Jones, upon returning to the sheriff’s department, made a threatening statement to the dispatcher. Deputy Jones was given a written reprimand for the infraction.”

“The medication incident in my opinion was completely devastating to Sergeant Jones as the investigators served him with papers and then removed all of this Sheriff’s Office equipment. This event was not only frightening but probably demoralizing to the deputy and I do not feel that he has emotionally recovered from it,” stated Molnar in the report.

Molnar spoke with Jones, his wife, three other deputy sheriffs, two witnesses from the July 4 parade, Sheriff Wood and Major Trussell as part of the investigation.

“All three deputies confirmed that the Administration does not like Sergeant Jones and they themselves feel that they are in fact out to get him fired. All three deputies advise that Jones is a good deputy, does a very good job and they would certainly want him before most others if they were facing a critical incident,” stated the report.

Molnar’s report continued, “One of the deputies commented on the issue of Sergeant Jones being written up for ‘insubordination’ for questioning the Sheriff’s secretary. The deputy added that the secretary who is the daughter of Major Trussell is paid more than the deputies. The deputies advised that this does not set well with the rank and file. It does seem a stretch to admonish Sergeant Jones for questioning a civilian employee.”

“One of the deputies remarked regarding the issue of the suspension for not notification of prescription medications. The deputy advised that few if any of the deputies have supplied this information to the Sheriff’s office, and questioned “Why is Jones being singled out?’ The deputies all advised that it was their opinion that the Sheriff’s Office is in fact a hostile work environment for some of the deputies,” added the report.

In interviewing Sheriff Wood and Major Trussell, Molnar’s report states, “Both subjects indicated that they try their best to accommodate their employees and serve the county with the manpower and resources they have.”

“Sheriff Wood to his credit, indicated that he desires to have a sheriff’s department that is functioning at full capacity and he does his best to lead his men and women, all of his men and women,” stated the report. “He admitted that he does not conduct evaluations on the deputies, provide Employee Assistance Programs, provide counseling for officers having work related issues or financially able to send officers to specialty schools and trainings other than one here and there,” continued the report.

In his conclusion, Molnar writes, “It is my suggestion that the Sheriff and Deputy Sergeant Jones sit down for a mediation session. … A disjointed and fractured working environment currently exists at the Sheriff’s Office. Both men are fine officers and want the best for the sheriff’s office and fellow officers.”

“As the interview progressed, it became apparent that both men do have a sincere desire to improve the Sheriff’s Office and would seek recommendations and take assistance from other law enforcement agencies,” stated Molnar’s report.

Molnar further states that he provided Major Trussell with a copy of a personnel evaluation from Hocking County Sheriff’s Office and told the Major that “I had learned that the police unions do have contracts for employee assistance programs.”

“It was emphasized that this type of service is personal and any employee seeking this type of assistance should not be criticized or labeled for this assistance,” stated the report.

Of his interview with Sheriff Wood and Major Trussell, Molnar’s report added, “In my opinion, the best way to fix this problem is through mediation. I added that both sides would agree that the meetings would be closed doors and agree that conversations of the meeting would not be shared with others for political gain/damage. … Sheriff Wood and Major Trussell agreed and indicated that they would be happy to engage in a mediation with Sergeant Jones and bring both sides together.”

“This is a situation that got out of control a few years ago and has not been effectively dealt with. The Sheriff’s Office does not possess the tools necessary to correct the problem and Sergeant Jones did not receive the assistance that he needed. What resulted was a division which grew worse by the day to what we have today,” continued the report.

“It would be unrealistic to think that everyone within a department would be best friends and in total agreement on all issues. However, there is a common goal within the Sheriff’s Office which is being hampered with the current state of work environment. There is a faction that fully supports the Sheriff and a faction that feels that his is out to get Sergeant Jones. Communication is the only way this will ever be repaired, whether for this Sheriff or the next Sheriff be it ten years from now,” added Molnar.

The investigator continued, “The Sheriff needs to bring his officers together, discuss issues which are important to them as well as issues which are important to the Sheriff”s Office as a whole. The present system of burdening Major Trussell with interacting with the different shifts and sharing information with the other deputies is problematic in that when he is unavailable, there is no system in place to perform that duty.”

Overall, Molnar made four recommendations moving forward for all involved.

1. Provide an Employee Assistance Program to the rank and file of the department. Check with surrounding agencies and ascertain how they have achieved same. Same is probably available at no or little cost.

2. Conduct periodic employee evaluations. Same should be done at least once a year for all members, highlighting strengths and weaknesses. Provide assistance for those who need support in different areas and commend through documentation those areas where an employee has done well.

3. Provide supervisory training for all Sergeants and those about to be promoted to sergeant or above. Such classes should provide leadership tools necessary for a deputy to become a first line supervisor. The rank of sergeant should be more than a pay raise. Additional responsibilities and duties should come with the position.

4. Interact with other Sheriffs in the area and put together if necessary advanced schools for deputies and bring to Meigs County additional expertise.

Copies of the report were provided by the Meigs County Commissioners to the parties involved, as well as The Daily Sentinel as requested.

Sheriff Keith Wood declined to comment, other than to say that he had received the report. Wood said he had received no additional communication from the Meigs County Commissioners regarding the investigation or report.

A statement provided on Wednesday by Joshua Price Law Office, which represents Deputy Curtis Jones, read in part,

“This summary (investigation report) only touches the tip of the iceberg of the harassment and hostility Mr. Jones has faced at the hands of Sheriff Keith Wood and Major Scott Trussell.”

“Mr. Jones is a decorated military veteran with twenty-four years of service to this country defending our freedoms that we hold so dear. Further, Mr. Jones is a disabled veteran who is also classified as employable by the Veterans Administration. While he could choose to retire, he has instead faithfully defended our community by putting his life on the line to maintain law and order in our communities. In risking his life for our community, Mr. Jones, like all good law enforcement officers, anticipated that he had the support of the elected sheriff and his administration.”

“Instead, Mr. Jones has been harassed and intimidated by both Sheriff Keith Wood and Major Trussell. He has been subjected to a hostile work environment for discriminatory purposes. Instead of support, he and others have suffered disparate treatment in a sheriff’s department where favored treatment is offered to those willing to side politically with the elected sheriff and unjust, inappropriate punishment is used to strongarm opposition.”

“Last year, Mr. Jones was investigated for an incident that was outside of his control that should have resulted in Major Trussell’s firing. However, to shield his Major from blame, the Sheriff tried to force Mr. Jones into admitting fault. Mr. Jones being a veteran stood by the values that were instilled in him while serving this country and held his ground.”

“In the coming weeks, Mr. Jones will be filing suit to seek damages for any and all legally addressable grievances. The truth will be brought to light on this administration and the dirty tactics they have used against Mr. Jones.”

© 2020 Ohio Valley Publishing, all rights reserved.

By Sarah Hawley

Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.

Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.