Grudek: Prosecutor has it out for sheriff's office
Sheriff Bob Grudek stepped forward Tuesday to defend his agency from what he characterized as a political attack engineered by Prosecuting Attorney Tony Rogers.
The ongoing investigation of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office became public knowledge earlier this month, after the Arkansas State Police raided the county dispatch center on behalf of Special Prosecutor Jack McQuary.
Since then, the investigation has been shrouded in mystery. Authorities have remained reticent, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation, and the affidavit of probable cause for the search warrant has remained under lock and key, by order of a special judge.
Even the sheriff said he did not know the extent of allegations and, though he said there was no cover-up, he added he was open to the possibility that investigators may uncover some legitimate wrongdoing on the part of his subordinates.
However, Grudek also characterized the investigation -- which was requested by Rogers -- as only the latest in a litany of alleged slights, threats, and injustices stretching all the way back to 2006, when he was first elected.
"I see a pattern forming here," Grudek said, "and I'm getting frustrated over it."
In a press release issued Wednesday morning, Rogers said he was unable to comment on the investigation and did not respond to Grudek's main allegation. However, he disputed many of his particulars.
The special prosecutor appointed to the case remained even more tight-lipped about the details of the investigation, but he said Rogers had "absolutely nothing" to do with it since it was handed over to McQuary's office.
"I can assure you politics has nothing to do with this," McQuary added. "It involves concrete questions of law."
State Police spokesman Bill Sadler explained that his agency had merely responded to a court order in executing the search warrant and referred questions to Special Judge Tom Smitherman, who said it would be "inappropriate" to comment on a pending case.
The sheriff said Rogers had threatened to prosecute him or his officers five times in the last six years. Though he did not offer many details about those cases, Grudek did say that Rogers had gone so far as to ask the State Police to investigate his agency once before, and nothing came of it.
"During this same time, we have submitted three cases to Tony's office where there was misconduct by officers of other departments," Grudek said. Rogers declined to prosecute two of the cases and referred a third to a special prosecutor. The latter was never heard about again, he said.
Rogers responded in a press release that each complaint was considered individually, "based on the facts alleged." Of the three cases Rogers was aware of, he said one had been referred to the State Police, one had been proven inaccurate by video evidence, and the last had been sent to a special prosecutor.
"If the special prosecutor determined that no charges were to be filed, that decision is his alone," Rogers said.
The Lovely County Citizen was able to document one of the cases referred to, which stemmed from alleged abuse of official access to the Arkansas Crime Information Center's criminal database via the JusticeXchange system during the 2010 election.
The case originated when the booking photo of Edward "Blue John" Chevallier, accessed through the system, found its way into Chevallier's hands and then ended up on a campaign flier for Green Forest Police Chief John Bailey, Grudek's Democrat opponent.
At the time, Chevallier, 81, was involved in a lawsuit -- still ongoing -- against Cpl. Joel Hand, alleging his civil rights were abused when Hand arrested him in August 2010. After the incident, Chevallier became a supporter of Bailey.
The Arkansas Crime Information Center investigated the matter in September, at Grudek's request. In an Oct. 4 letter to Rogers, ACIC Administrator Brad Cazort said Green Forest Police Det. Tommy Hayden had accessed the information and, further, lied to investigators about his reasons for doing so.
"Even so," Cazort wrote, "ACIC can find no evidence that indicates who provided Mr. Chevallier with a copy of his JusticeXchange report. He would have to be the one to tell you that. We did not refer this matter to the State Police as it appears the only investigation required is taking a statement from Mr. Chevallier."
Rogers declined to proceed with the investigation, and he did not reference the case directly in his statement. Speaking Wednesday, Bailey said he had been "very comfortable" that Hayden was innocent.
"As far as I'm concerned that case was investigated (by ACIC)," Hayden said, "... and whatever happened happened."
Grudek interpreted the case differently.
"I just find it hard to understand why (Rogers) is so aggressive and gets so personally involved over the Sheriff's Office," he said, "... but, when it comes to other departments, it's just not important."
The sheriff alleged other grievances, as well: Prosecutors repeatedly have refused his requests to be involved in plea bargaining and the disposition of cases; they have failed to properly file paperwork for the housing of state prisoners and the extradition of inmates, costing taxpayers thousands of dollars; and Rogers has twice tried to convince a judge to reprimand Grudek -- both times for reasons that later proved faulty, Grudek said.
Rogers responded that his door was always open to law enforcement agencies who wanted to discuss open cases and that they were free to make "any recommendation they like."
However, the sheriff maintained that his attempts at dialogue with Rogers had fallen "on deaf ears."
The tension climaxed last summer, Grudek said, when Rogers sent three Arkansas State Police officers to co-opt the Sheriff's Office investigation of the death of a woman who fell from Lovers Leap in Green Forest.
"I called up Tony and asked, 'What is happening? I don't understand why you sent the state troopers here,'" he recounted, "and he just became ballistic. He's screaming at me on the phone. He told me, 'Sheriff, you're not capable of understanding anything. I am the chief law enforcement officer in this county.'"
Grudek said the prosecutor then threatened him with a misdemeanor for failing to report the woman's death to the prosecutor. When the sheriff told Rogers his deputies had been in constant communication with the prosecutor's office that day, Grudek said, Rogers called them liars.
Rogers disagreed with Grudek's recounting of the incident.
"We requested that the State Police assist, not to take over (sic.)," Rogers said in his press release. He added that prosecutors had learned of the death earlier in the day, before they were notified by the sheriff.
Grudek said he had sought legal advice to determine if he had any recourse to stop the alleged abuse.
"(T)he bottom line is that the prosecutor is almost untouchable," he concluded.
Given this fact, he said, he had no choice but to speak out.
"I don't like the way my department is constantly being challenged and questioned by the prosecutor," the sheriff said. "I don't like him threatening to prosecute us every time something goes wrong that he's not happy with. I'm tired of him calling my people liars. It doesn't make for a very good relationship."
"We're law enforcement," he continued. "We're supposed to be working together, not having the prosecutor's office looking for ways to prosecute the sheriff's office. We're supposed to be prosecuting the bad guys, and I think it's wasting a lot of energy."