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State attorney general’s office awaits Jefferson County letter

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Signed, sealed, but not quite delivered. The Jefferson County Board of Legislators’ formal request that the state attorney general’s Public Integrity Bureau investigate a Dec. 1 incident involving the Sheriff’s Department will shortly be on its way to Albany. How it will be received and what actions the state agency will take remain to be seen.

On Thursday, Michelle C. Hook, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said that the Public Integrity Bureau has not received any formal request or recommendation and cannot decide whether it will get involved until the formal request has been received.

“We will review the request on its merits and determine if it warrants our investigation,” she said.

She said that depending on how much legwork is involved in a preliminary review of the facts, the county should have a response by the legislators’ March 5 meeting.

It is expected that an actual investigation by the bureau could take much longer.

Initial forays made by county attorney David J. Paulsen did not yield promising results.

Mr. Paulsen made an informal phone call to Deanna R. Nelson, assistant attorney general in charge of the Watertown office, to find out whom to contact at the Public Integrity Bureau. According to a statement delivered by Mr. Paulsen to legislators Tuesday night, Ms. Nelson reached out to her supervisor in turn.

“Her supervisor felt that the attorney general’s office did not have primary criminal jurisdiction in this matter and secondarily that the attorney general’s office was not in a position to give advisory recommendations or reports and that we should seek advice or counsel from outside consultants,” Mr. Paulsen said.

“Despite this, I feel that a referral to the attorney general and to this bureau should be pursued probably directly through the attorney general in Albany, and I prepared a resolution tonight to that effect,” Mr. Paulsen said Tuesday.

That resolution was unanimously passed by legislators.

The incident the Legislature wants probed involves Deputy Adam B. Hallett and other members of the Sheriff’s Department, including the sheriff himself.

Deputy Hallett was discovered unresponsive in his patrol vehicle off County Route 72 in the town of Henderson with a bottle of bourbon whiskey in his car several hours after he went off duty Dec. 1.

Reports released last week by Mr. Paulsen and Sheriff John P. Burns have some significant divergences that legislators are trying to sort out.

Deputy Hallett was charged with an open alcoholic-beverage container violation on Jan. 10 following an internal investigation by Mr. Burns. A deputy who disposed of the bottle of whiskey by throwing it into a field and waved off a state police cruiser and an ambulance was subject to undisclosed disciplinary action.

The county district attorney’s office and sheriff have offered differing accounts of how charges were determined in the case, and both were hamstrung by a lack of evidence resulting from a disregard for proper law enforcement procedure at the scene.

Mr. Paulsen said Tuesday that the board is asking the attorney general to help because it is seeking an investigatory body that would be as independent as possible.

In June 2011, the attorney general appointed “public integrity officers” in every regional office statewide. According to a press release announcing the appointments, the officers are charged with “giving taxpayers a place to go to report complaints of government corruption without fear of local politics influencing the outcome.” The press release also said the officers were formally linked to the attorney general’s central Public Integrity Bureau.

According to its website, the Public Integrity Bureau “investigates and seeks to vindicate the public’s interest in honest government” by handling “complex investigations into government corruption, fraud, and abuse of authority.”

Jefferson County Board of Legislators Chairwoman Carolyn D. Fitzpatrick and Mr. Paulsen declined Tuesday night to discuss other options in the event the bureau turns down the county’s request.

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