|Steve Guthrie, assistant chief deputy sheriff of Marshall County, Alabama, stands next to barrels of dish soap and boxes of toilet paper in storage behind the county jail, bought by the previous sheriff. (Photo by Bob Miller, special to ProPublica)|
Two of the nine sheriffs who had reported trouble said their predecessors had done annoying but relatively benign things like failing to have a badge made for the new sheriff, or throwing all the unmarked keys in a pile so the new sheriff would have to try all of them to figure out which went where. Some described more harmful but technically legal actions: One sheriff said his predecessor stopped selling pistol permits and stopped the jail’s work-release program after his defeat; both programs together brought in more than $5,500 per month on average, which meant the new sheriff couldn’t buy sorely needed new equipment for his deputies, Sheets reports.
One sheriff accused of wrongdoing was former Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin; Sheets gained nationwide attention last year and several journalism awards after he discovered that Entrekin had taken home more than $750,000 in funds meant to buy food for jail inmates. While researching this story, Sheets and ProPublica obtained financial records showing that Entrekin pocketed another $269,184 meant to feed jail inmates and federal immigration detainees.
Six of the new sheriffs have requested state audits of their offices and told Sheets they’ll decide how to proceed once they have the results; the other three who reported problems with their predecessors said they’re handling the problems themselves to avoid making waves.
The pattern of outgoing sheriffs sabotaging or hampering their successors goes back decades, according to Bobby Timmons, who has been the executive director of the Alabama Sheriffs Association since 1975. "Timmons said outgoing sheriffs with grudges have long blown through funds, refused to communicate with incoming sheriffs and have even been known to pull trucks up to the backs of their county jails and fill them with any remaining food, leaving their replacements scrambling to feed inmates," Sheets reports.
Timmons said this sort of thing is common among sheriffs who have lost an election. “The one that gets defeated, he doesn’t want to be defeated, he doesn’t want to lose,” he told Sheets. “And it may have been a dirty campaign, so you’ve got a hate pattern then.”