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Help is on the way

GATESVILLE – With the number of deputies dwindling in Gates County due to recent arrests of law enforcement officers, the county’s Board of Commissioners are taking action to ensure the safety of the general public.

At a special called meeting here Monday morning, the commissioners voted unanimously in support of a resolution that adopts a policy for mutual assistance with other law enforcement agencies. This comes in the wake of Gates County Sheriff Randy Hathaway and three of his officers – Capt. Glynda Parker, Deputy Lavar Newsome and Deputy Tobe Ruffin – who were indicted and arrested on Jan. 22 on several charges. A fourth GCSO officer, Sgt. Brandon Hawks, was arrested in December; most of his eight charges dealt with embezzlement of property by public officer.

Hawks was fired the day after his arrest. Meanwhile, Hathaway was temporarily removed from office, by order of a judge, and Parker, Newsome and Ruffin were suspended by new interim Sheriff Robert Jordan. That left the GCSO with only eight full-time officers, to include Jordan; down from 13 early last month.

The commissioners studied the resolution at Monday’s meeting, and then were advised by County Manager Natalie Rountree that she was suggesting to add one more paragraph for clarification purposes.

“This way this resolution reads, there is no mention of money, but there will be money changing hands from our county and other counties,” she said.

That item, approved later in the meeting as part of the entire resolution, reads: “The Sheriff of Gates County, in accordance to North Carolina General Statute 159-28, must submit any mutual assistance agreements with other law enforcement agencies which allocate funds for payment of service to be pre-audit certified, reviewed and signed by the County Finance Officer and the County Manager.”

Commission Chair Linda Hofler agreed with that addition, stating that she didn’t want to see an agreement reached without monetary guidelines.

“We do not need to write a blank check,” Hofler stressed.

Rountree added the monetary portion of the agreement would be part of an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) between Gates County and the other county or counties from where the temporary deputies will come.

“We do not have those (MOU) guidelines worked out as of yet,” Rountree said.

The County Manager added that the resolution gives the interim Sheriff the authority to enter into a mutual aid agreement, but does not specify with what exact law enforcement agency or agencies.

“Let’s say, for example, he (Jordan) works out an agreement with Hertford, Chowan and Perquimans counties, and then he discovers later he needs to add Pasquotank County then he has that authority to do so,” Rountree noted.

She added the assistance provided by other law enforcement agencies is temporary, but the resolution does not carry an expiration date.

“That way if anything else happens here in our county – a hurricane for example – and the Sheriff feels the need to call in extra help, this resolution allows him to do that,” Rountree explained.

Commission Vice Chair Jack Owens inquired about providing the temporary deputies with the equipment that law enforcement officers need to carry out their duties.

Rountree said those items will be spelled out specifically in the Mutual Aid Agreement. However, the approved resolution did address that, as it states: “the Sheriff may lend such equipment and supplies to requesting agencies as he deems advisable.”

Later in the meeting, Hofler asked if the MOU needed the approval of the commissioners.

“No, what this board is only authorizing is for the Sheriff to do all the negotiations (with neighboring law enforcement agencies),” Rountree replied. “That’s why I wanted to add the part to the resolution about the funds paid by this county for this service having to be reviewed and signed off by myself and our finance officer to make sure there’s money in the budget to cover this.”

As part of the discussion prior to adopting the resolution, Owens expressed caution about the possibility of deputies coming in from other agencies who may have just ended a shift in their county.

“If our Sheriff requests deputies from another county, it’s my hope that those officers just didn’t get off a shift and then come here and work a full shift,” Owens said. “We do not need an exhausted deputy working.”

Still, the topic at hand was the cost incurred by the county to hire these temporary deputies.

“We understand from our county manager that the MOU will be written by our sheriff and we have no control over that, to include the cost,” stated Commissioner Billy Felton.

“Our sheriff is new, and hopefully will be open to receiving some direction and guidelines from our county manager,” Owens noted.

“I will have input (into the MOU), especially the financial part,” Rountree promised.

All commissioners present at Monday’s meeting agreed that despite the cost of hiring temporary law enforcement officers, it was needed in order to protect and serve the citizens of Gates County.

Owens made the motion to approve the resolution, to include the addition suggested by Rountree. Upon a second from Freeman, the motion was approved by a 4-0 vote. Commissioner Henry Jordan was absent from the meeting.

Other than what was previously mentioned in the resolution, other parts of it read:

The Sheriff of Gates County is hereby authorized to enter into mutual assistance arrangements with other municipal and county law enforcement agencies provided that the head of the requesting law enforcement agency makes such a request in writing.

The Sheriff of Gates County is hereby authorized to permit officers of the Gates County Sheriff’s Office to work temporarily with officers of the requesting agency, including in an undercover capacity.

All such requests and authorizations shall be in accordance with North Carolina General Statutes §160A-288, as applicable.

While working with a requesting agency, an officer shall have the same jurisdiction, powers, rights, privileges and immunities (including those relating to the defense of civil actions and payment of judgments) as the officers of the requesting agency in addition to those the officer normally possesses.

While on duty with the requesting agency, an officer shall be subject to the lawful operational commands of the officer’s superior officers in the requesting agency, but the officer shall for personnel and administrative purposes, remain under the control of the officer’s own agency, including for purposes of pay. An officer shall furthermore be entitled to worker’s compensation and the same benefits to the extent as though he were functioning within the normal scope of the officer’s duties.

The Sheriff of Gates County is hereby authorized to enter into mutual assistance agreements with other law enforcement agencies in accordance with such reasonable arrangements, terms and conditions as may be agreed upon between the respective heads of the law enforcement agencies.

Commissioner Ray Freeman changed the topic just a bit later in the meeting, addressing how other counties pay their deputies who work school security through a mutual aid agreement between county government and the county’s school system. In the cases of Sheriff Hathaway and his three deputies arrested on Jan. 22, obtaining property by false pretense was among the charges. Each was alleged to have been paid $100 by Gates County Public Schools to provide security at a school, but the indictments against those officers claim they received the money without providing the service.

“I reached out to Wake County as far as what they did in paying (law enforcement officers) for security for their schools,” Freeman remarked. “They send a check to their county manager and then they (the officers) are paid out of that at their (hourly) rate of pay.”

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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