Commissioner, sheriff’s office disagree on personal use

Published 8:19 pm Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Personal use of sheriff’s office vehicles continues to be a hot-button issue with the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners.

Last month, Beaufort County manager Brian Alligood was asked to look into the county’s policy on personal use of county vehicles in response to allegations that sheriff’s office employees had been seen using official vehicles for personal errands on several occasions.

Sheriff Ernie Coleman said the incidents have been investigated thoroughly, but the county has no say in whether sheriff’s office vehicles can be used for personal use when warranted, such as one incident when an officer dropped his child off at school before driving to work.

Monday, Alligood reported to commissioners what he had found — that there were a few oversights in county policy, but the sheriff’s office has its own policy, separate from the county.

Commissioner Hood Richardson said the sheriff’s office should not be allowed to have a separate policy considering the county pays for sheriff’s office vehicles.

“It is clear to me from the documents that have been reviewed that the sheriff’s office is not authorized to use county vehicles for personal use,” Richardson said.

Richardson made a motion that estimated mileage reports should be made for every sheriff’s office vehicle and that deputies should be made to pay the going rate for use of the vehicle. The motion died for lack of a second.

The discussion prompted Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Charlie Rose to defend the office and Sheriff Coleman.

“The sheriff is a stickler for the law, for policy,” Rose told commissioners. “We answer to the people.”

He reiterated that the board of commissioners does not have ability to force a personal use policy for vehicles on the sheriff’s office. He also took the opportunity to remind Richardson that any time Richardson “tears down” sheriff’s office employees, he’s tearing down the board’s, and the county’s, employees.

“We need better leadership, and it needs to come from this board,” Rose said.

“You don’t have legal authority,” he said. “You’ve been wrong many times in the past, and you’re wrong about this.”

Rose said the personal use of vehicles issue had been “politicized” and “exaggerated.” He said the sheriff’s office investigation had uncovered a single incident that violated the department’s policy: an off-duty deputy, in civilian clothes, who took a pet to the vet using a sheriff’s office vehicle.