At least four senior officers inside the Leon County Sheriff’s Office, one of them Sheriff Mike Wood himself, personally used county-owned power generators at their homes in the aftermath of Hurricane Hermine, instead of using the expensive equipment for critical needs across the community. Sources also say at least one of the generators was delivered to the high-ranking officers homes using a taxpayer-funded pickup truck from the Crime Scene Unit. According to public safety and emergency response experts, the generators should have been deployed to the hardest hit areas of the city. Immediately after the hurricane, more than 230 traffic intersections were without power, while only 170 generators were available to keep traffic flowing, especially to emergency buildings such as hospitals.
Florida’s ethics laws prohibit public officials from misusing their public position:
(6) MISUSE OF PUBLIC POSITION.—No public officer, employee of an agency, or local government attorney shall corruptly use or attempt to use his or her official position or any property or resource which may be within his or her trust, or perform his or her official duties, to secure a special privilege, benefit, or exemption for himself, herself, or others. This section shall not be construed to conflict with s. 104.31.
Emails circulated inside the Leon County Sheriff’s Office, obtained by The Capitolist, show that Sheriff Wood and his staff were aware that other emergency response agencies were “continuing to deploy generators at intersections,” and that “oxygen tanks were malfunctioning due to power outages.” The generators were purchased using taxpayer funds, and were not supposed to be designated for personal use, especially during an emergency like Hurricane Hermine.
The sheriff’s office was contacted by phone late last week, but a spokesman declined to comment for this story. Prior to publication, an initial draft of this story was also furnished to the sheriff’s office seeking comment and clarification of any errors. The sheriff’s office did not reply.
This isn’t the first time Wood has come under fire for questionable use of taxpayer funds. In late 2012, when he was still a deputy, Wood and several others were implicated for a taxpayer spending spree that included trips to Israel and Las Vegas for “terrorism training.” But Wood admitted then the training was not something that could be passed on to other officers. In the now four-year old interview with WCTV, he acknowledged his responsibility to taxpayers:
“I think we have to be innovative because the one thing I would tell you that it’s all taxpayer money and we’re accountable.” –Sheriff Mike Wood, 2012
The Capitolist first reported details of the generator story on September 8th, but at that time only two unidentified members of the command staff were implicated in the scandal, and the Sheriff’s office declined to name the individual officers. Now, it is clear that in addition to Sheriff Wood himself, at least three members of the command staff enjoyed personal use of the generators. Those commanders have been identified as Major Linda Butler, Major Steve Harrelson, and Captain Ed Cook. The names were provided to the sheriff’s office prior to publication, but LCSO representatives declined to comment.
New details have also emerged that provide a clearer picture of how the generators were removed from the Sheriff’s emergency response plan and instead put to work powering the VIP officer’s refrigerators and other personal appliances. According to witnesses, at least one of the generators was delivered to a high-ranking leader’s home by a lower-ranking deputy ordered to drive a white pickup truck (pictured, left) normally assigned to the crime scene investigations unit. It is not clear whether the generators were delivered before or after the storm hit, but sources say they were used to power refrigerators and other privately owned items at the sheriff’s home or that of his command team.
The sources also said that the generators are normally fueled at the county fuel depot, although an LCSO spokesman said that in this case, all generators were fueled with privately purchased gasoline.
While LCSO declined to comment for this story, a spokesman referred The Capitolist back to their previous statement issued when the scandal first broke. That statement is republished below:
In the aftermath of Hurricane Hermine, the Leon County Sheriff’s Office activated our emergency staffing protocol. Our entire law enforcement operations division was divided into a day shift and night shift of uniform patrol. Many of these team members deployed prior to the sun coming up on Friday, just hours after the eye of the storm made land fall. Most of these employees and their families were impacted by the storm themselves. These deputies left their families, some with minor children, with no electricity, to honor their oath and commitment to protect and serve members of our community. These deputies went to the aid of others, without knowing the extent of the damage to their own property.
The Sheriff’s office has 5 generators in our inventory. These generators, among other generators personally owned and voluntarily donated by Sheriff office employees, were, in fact, rotated among employees that were without power.
There is/was no policy for any generator to go strictly to members of Command Staff. Rather, emergency generators were rotated among Sheriff’s office personnel that reported a need or requested the use of a generator. For example, a generator was taken to the residence of a deputy currently on active duty with the United States Army and deployed overseas. During the storm, his wife and children who is home alone lost power to their residence.
A member of Command Staff did receive the benefit of a generator, while his wife and several minor children were left alone while he worked many 12 hour shifts. Another member of Command Staff utilized a generator for a few hours to recharge a refrigerator and then passed the generator to another employees in need. These same employees are supplying the gas for those generators so no public funds are going to fuel the generators. Many of our employees still do not have power but continue to work long hours to ensure public safety.
The exact numbers of Sheriff’s office personnel that lost power and were provided a donated generator or office owned generator is not known due to the frequency of the movement of the generators. Some of these generators were used for very short periods of time and passed to another Sheriff’s office personnel family in need.
We always refer to our agency as the “Sheriff’s Office Family”. While we were rendering aide to the community during this devastating event, we were also taking care of our family.
If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to give me a call.
Lieutenant Grady Jordan
Public Information Officer