Member of LCSO Mounted Posse says on-duty deputy asked for campaign contribution
12:27 AM, Apr. 28, 2012 | Written by Jeff Burlew Senior government editor Of The Tallahassee Democrat
A member of the Leon County Sheriff’s Office Mounted Posse has filed an elections complaint against Sheriff Larry Campbell, saying an on-duty deputy hit him up for a campaign contribution and made a threat when he didn’t give him one.
Carl Martin, a civilian member of the Mounted Posse, filed the complaint Thursday afternoon with the Supervisor of Elections Office. Martin said Deputy Jerry Shuler showed up at his stereo business at the Flea Market on Capital Circle Southwest and asked him to give to Campbell’s campaign. Martin said Shuler was on duty, in uniform and driving a patrol car.
“It’s cronyism is what it is,” said Martin. “They need to stop it.”
Under Florida law, it is illegal for public employees to directly or indirectly coerce or attempt to coerce, command or advise any other public employee to contribute to a party, committee or candidate. Public employees also can’t participate in any political campaign while on duty. Anyone who violates the law is guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor.
Martin said Shuler approached him sometime late Thursday morning. After Martin said he wouldn’t be giving to the sheriff’s re-election campaign, he said Shuler told him, “Well you know you’ve got family members there,” a reference to two of his relatives who work at the Sheriff’s Office.
“I took it as a threat,” Martin said, adding he’s worried his family could face workplace retaliation. Martin said he’d already said no to another deputy who asked him earlier in the campaign to give a $250 contribution, the maximum allowed in county races.
Lt. James McQuaig, spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, issued a statement saying the complaint “is being reviewed at this time so that it can be handled appropriately. The actions alleged in this complaint, if determined to be factual, are not endorsed or sanctioned by Sheriff Larry Campbell or Sheriff Campbell’s campaign.”
McQuaig said an internal investigation has begun and that no disciplinary action has been taken against Shuler, who has worked for LCSO for more than 20 years.
Campbell sent an email to employees Friday notifying them that a complaint had been filed and reminding them of Sheriff’s Office policy.
“While these are only allegations, and until additional information can be obtained, please let me remind you that my policy has been and continues to be that no Sheriff’s Office member be involved in any campaign activity while on duty,” Campbell wrote. “This includes any time the member is wearing the uniform and/or driving a Sheriff’s Office vehicle.”
The Supervisor of Elections Office forwarded the complaint Friday to State Attorney Willie Meggs. However, the complaint asks for appointment of a special prosecutor, saying a conflict of interest exists between Meggs and the Sheriff’s Office. Meggs said he is awaiting results of the Sheriff’s Office’s investigation but that he will likely have one of his prosecutors review the complaint.
Martin said the conversation with Shuler lasted only a few minutes and the deputy left without getting a campaign check. Martin later contacted Lisa Sprague, a former Florida State University deputy police chief who’s running against Campbell this year. Sprague was among several people who accompanied Martin to the Supervisor of Elections Office to file the complaint.
Sprague said she was “shocked and very disappointed” after talking with Martin.
“This reaches beyond the reasonable bounds of what a normal person would expect,” Sprague said.
Martin said a man who works at the stereo store overheard part of the conversation. He also said Shuler told other deputies that he’d asked him for a donation.
The Mounted Patrol comprises civilian and law-enforcement volunteers who patrol on horseback during special events like football games and the Red Hills Horse Trials.