Sheriff takes responsibility for deputy's action

Sunday, October 8th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) _ Muskogee County Sheriff Cliff Sinyard said he takes full responsibility for a uniformed deputy who delivered copies of a newspaper promoting Sinyard to a restaurant and told customers they might like to read them.

Sinyard told the Muskogee Daily Phoenix he has warned his employees not to campaign for him in uniform, on the job or in county vehicles.

``They (deputies) know not to do it,'' he said.

The question arose after one of the restaurant's patrons told the Daily Phoenix that Lt. Chuck Downing came into the restaurant early Friday with copies of a special edition of the Five Star News.

``He came in and started passing out that Warner newspaper (Five Star News), saying 'Would you like to see the sheriff's side?''' said Ellis Moore, a customer in the restaurant that morning.

The publication contained Sinyard's rebuttal to a state audit report that is critical of Sinyard's management skills. The paper featured photos of Sinyard at work and holding a campaign sign, but no campaign disclaimer was included, the Daily Phoenix reported.

Downing admitted he dropped off copies of the paper on a table and told patrons they might like to read them, but he said there was no campaigning involved. Downing, who is in charge of the sheriff's patrol, said it happened before it was time for him to report to work.

Sinyard said some of his deputies had volunteered to distribute the 16,000 extra copies of the publication he purchased for $2,000 from the newspaper.

The special edition, printed a week ago, followed a series of articles in the weekly publication favorable to Sinyard, the Daily Phoenix reported. The series began four days after Sinyard deputized the paper's publisher and owner, Gus Padgett, so he could transport his inmate son to take care of criminal bogus check charges in Oklahoma County.

Releasing an inmate into the custody of a relative is unusual police procedure and places the county in jeopardy if anything goes wrong, Sinyard admitted. But he added he had the authority to do it.

``I can deputize a door knob for a special purpose,'' he said in a previous interview.

When asked whether Downing's actions were illegal, Sinyard said Friday: ``Technically, I don't think it would be (illegal), but I don't think it's kosher.''

Campaigning in uniform doesn't violate state law, according to the state Ethics Commission and the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office. It may violate a county policy that prohibits the use of county property for campaigning, the Daily Phoenix reported. The county purchases sheriff's department uniforms.

The Muskogee County Employee Personnel Policy Handbook, in which the county property rule is listed, also requires employees to refrain from behavior that may be ``viewed unfavorably by the public at large.''

Sinyard is running for re-election against Democrat Charles Pearson, a Muskogee police officer. Sinyard has said the publishing of the series was not done as a favor in exchange for his deputizing of Padgett.

The publisher agreed, saying Sinyard has paid for everything Padgett has done for him and the purpose of his newspaper is to make money.