Commonwealth Journal

Local News

May 29, 2014

Wood: Chief made ‘error in judgment’

Sheriff says his department will assist on all calls

Somerset —

Pulaski County Sheriff Todd Wood got back into cell-phone range yesterday morning after a relaxing week-long, post-election cruise. The messages he immediately received brought him back to reality. Wood discovered that his office was at the center of a controversy concerning his deputies’ response to the outlying cities of Burnside, Science Hill, Eubank and Ferguson. “This is the last thing me and my family expected to hear,” Wood said, “that there’s been a huge conflict at the office.” Wood confirmed what Chief Deputy Larry Wesley told the Commonwealth Journal on Wednesday — that the vacationing sheriff had no role in issuing a memo last week proclaiming the sheriff’s office would no longer respond to non-emergency calls in the outlying cities. “I had absolutely no knowledge of it. And I can tell you that if I had knowledge of it the memo never would have been issued,” Wood said. “It was very unfortunate that this occurred. “I talked to Chief Wesley about it briefly this morning,” Wood added. “I can tell you that this was an error in judgment on his part.” Wood said he believed Wesley was trying to address manpower shortage. But the message delivered was an epic fail. “When we talk about non-emergency, we mean motorist assists or reports of stolen property that another agency could get to a little later,” Wood said. “I think (Wesley) was trying to get better coverage on the county roads. But that’s neither here nor there ... the memo never should have been issued.” Wood said his department will function as it always has — it will answer all calls for assistance. “We have always answered all calls, and we will continue to answer all calls,” the sheriff said. “I think we have a good record of serving the people of Pulaski County — including those in the four cities affected by the memo. We will continue to operate that way. “We also respond to neighboring counties if they need assistance,” Wood said. “We will continue to do that as well.” A memo written on Friday, May 24 by a dispatcher at Pulaski County 911 stated that the sheriff’s department would only provide back-up to the smaller cities’ police forces in the event of emergency calls. “PCSO will only respond to the cities of: Burnside, Eubank, Ferguson and Science Hill if it is an emergency call,” states the note. “If you are unsure if it is an emergency — check with PCSO.” The memo is sent from 11-02 — the badge number attributed to Wesley — down to badge number 11-15. Early Friday morning, a sheriff’s deputy was the first police official on the scene of a fatal accident in Burnside. According to a recorded 911 conversation, the deputy was told by Wesley to simply stand by until Burnside Police Chief Craig Whitaker’s shift began — around 30 minutes after the deputy arrived to the accident. And more concerns arose after jailer-elect and current Ferguson Police Chief David Moss was informed by a dispatcher Monday evening that the sheriff’s office would not provide back-up to a report of a domestic situation involving a knife in the small city. On Monday, just as chiefs from the smaller Pulaski municipalities entered into an agreement with the Somerset Police Department assuring their citizens of added protection, the sheriff’s office did an about-face and rescinded that order, saying deputies would respond as they always have. Wesley on Tuesday called Pulaski County 911 and said they would return to responding to any and all calls because the situation “got blown out of proportion.” The knee-jerk reaction around the county was that the sheriff’s office memo was politically motivated. Wood was defeated by former state trooper Greg Speck by more than 3,500 votes in the May 20 Republican Primary. Although they didn’t actively campaign for Speck, Whitaker, Science Hill Police Chief Robbie Gossett and Eubank Police Chief Colin Hatfield showed their support of Speck through a Facebook photo featuring them and Speck at a gathering. The flames were fanned by a 911 call from Pulaski Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jon Williams informing a dispatcher of the decision not to cover the outlying cities. During the phone call Williams made derogatory comments about Moss. Moss said Williams has apologized for those remarks. Williams’ comments during the phone conversation certainly support Wood’s claim that he had no intention of dropping coverage for the cities. “ ... the sheriff the other night when he lost (the election) ,” Williams told the dispatcher. “I asked ‘sheriff can we tell Ferguson to (expletive) off now?’ and he said ‘No we can’t ...’” “I had not been informed of Sgt. Williams’ call to dispatch,” Wood said yesterday. “I know that emotions run high after an election. But anything that (Williams) said has no bearing on how we function as a department. We take pride in providing service in a professional manner.” Wood added that he planned to “look into” Williams’ comments. The sheriff also was adamant that the controversy was not political in nature. “I called Greg Speck after the election and wished he and his family well,” Wood said. “I will always support the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office. I wish nothing but the best for Greg.” Jeff Neal is the news editor of the Commonwealth Journal. He can be reached at:

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