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02/25/2013

COMMUNICATIONS BREAK DOWN RESULTS IN DISCIPLINARY ACTIONS BEING TAKEN
 

     As was recently reported in the local press, the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office failed to provide assistance to a citizen and member of the public when she called asking for it on the evening of Thursday, February 14th.

     As Sheriff, I learned of the incident last week and immediately gave instructions for the incident to be investigated.  What I learned from the investigation is that a woman placed three (3) calls to the Sheriff’s Office non-emergency number on February 14, 2013 seeking assistance with a matter involving a child custody/exchange issue and a possible violation of a no contact order.  She placed those calls at 8:07 PM, 8:48 PM, and 8:57 PM. 

     After the recorded phone calls were retrieved and listened to, it is very clear without question that those calls were not handled properly by Jail Staff who answered those phone calls, and the woman making those calls did not receive any assistance that she asked for.  The deputies on duty in the patrol division were never notified of any of those calls received from the woman and thus were not able to provide the assistance the caller asked for that they would have otherwise tried to provide. 

     The investigation also revealed that three other calls were received earlier that evening from this woman’s estranged husband requesting that deputies make a welfare check on their minor child said to be home alone at the woman’s residence South of Lone Rock.  These calls were received at 5:25 PM, 6:36 PM, and 6:53 PM.  Deputy Dwight Duch (Duke) spoke with the husband during both the 6:35 PM and 6:53 PM calls and made preparations to drive to the location and check on the child.  The husband had told Deputy Duch by phone that he was already at the residence where the child was located, had approached the house, and had seen that the child was alright.  However, the husband wanted Deputy Duch to come and witness that the child had been left there alone.  The decision to have Deputy Duch respond there and conduct a welfare check was subsequently altered by Sgt. Charles Bost.  This decision was made after Sgt. Bost spoke with the husband by phone and determined that the child was safe and that the husband would be satisfied if the mother returned home.  Sgt. Bost made contact with the woman by phone and advised her to return home to be with the child, which she stated she would.  At some point after this, the woman’s estranged husband picked up the ten year old child at the woman’s residence in violation of a no contact order.  It was after this occurred that the woman began calling the Sheriff’s Office to seek assistance in retrieving the child, beginning at 8:07 PM.

     There are written procedures in place that designate the proper manner in which to take, handle, record, and process incoming calls for assistance.  There are standardized training protocols in place to assist newly hired personnel in handling phone calls in the proper manner.    Unfortunately, those do not appear to have been followed in this case.  There was a supervisor on duty in the Detention Center who was responsible for ensuring that incoming calls are handled properly.  The supervisor did not fulfill her responsibility on the evening in question. 

     As Sheriff, I do not condone such unacceptable and unsatisfactory job performance on the part of any employee of this office.  I expect a much higher level of efficiency and assistance to the public than what the citizen in question experienced on February 14th

     Therefore, having investigated the incident to the extent needed to reach a decision as to what happened and having determined which employees working in the Detention Center were primarily responsible for not properly handing those calls and for failing to inform the patrol deputies on duty of those calls, I have imposed disciplinary sanctions as follows:  The Jail Corporal responsible for supervising the Detention Center staff has been demoted to the non-supervisory position of Jailer/Matron and has been suspended for a period of three (3) days without pay.  The Jailer who had primary involvement in answering those calls, even though he is a new hire still in training, has been suspended for a period of three (3) days without pay. 

     I fully believe this incident to be one of insufficient training and lack of adequate supervision in the Detention Center.  Had the deputies on duty in the patrol division been made aware of those calls from the woman, they would have responded and provided whatever assistance would have been necessary and appropriate. 

     I regret the incident occurred, and although the end results were positive in that the woman received her child back and her estranged husband was arrested for violating a no contact order, I am very disappointed that the caller did not receive the assistance she requested from the Sheriff’s Office.  It is my expectation that Sheriff’s Office employees provide the best assistance to the public that they possibly can, whatever that may be under the circumstances.  I will be working with management staff in the coming days to review procedures, training guidelines, and supervision guidelines to determine whether changes need to be made and what those changes may be.

John F. Montgomery,
Baxter County Sheriff

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