LEWISBURG — The Greenbrier County Commission told five sheriff’s deputies on Tuesday that they have no authority as commissioners to ask for an outside investigation into whether Sheriff Roger Sheppard allegedly neglected his duties by condoning racial slurs by other deputies, promoting nepotism, openly discussing personnel matters among department employees and inadequate firearms training.

In a brief three paragraph letter to the commission dated Oct. 3, Sheppard said the matters are confidential and personnel matters.

“I respectfully suggest that the matters raised in the letter are personnel issues which are confidential in nature or are other matters of policy and administration which are in my (purview) as sheriff,” Sheppard wrote. “I assure you that I have undertaken an investigation of the allegations and will deal with the issues appropriately.”

Sheppard did not attend Tuesday’s meeting.

The five whistleblowers — deputies R.A. Martin, J.J. Martin, J.T. Williams, R.D. Baker and G.M. Baker — were in attendance Tuesday, along with their lawyer R. Thomas Czarnik of Princeton.

During a Sept. 26 meeting the commissioners told Sheppard he had 10 days to respond to the deputies’ allegations.

One of the more serious accusations is that Sheppard did nothing to stop a high ranking member of his department who allegedly bantered about racial slurs in front of Deputy J.T. Williams, who is African-American.

Speaking on behalf of the deputies, Czarnik said he supported the decision of the commission and hoped the matter would be settled “professionally.”

“These officers are trying to act in their best interest,” Czarnik told the commissioners. “We hope the sheriff listens to them to the betterment of Greenbrier County.”

Czarnik said one of the complaints the whistleblowers levied at Sheppard — officers not properly certified in fire arms training — has already been addressed by the sheriff.

“Since that letter was sent out at least one complaint has been responded to,” Czarnik said of the fire arms certification just days after the deputies levied allegations against the sheriff. “(Prior to that certification) the deputies were not lawful and did expose the county to legal actions.”

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On Oct. 4, Commission President Betty Crookshanks sent a letters to the five deputies asking for their permission to openly discuss personnel matters during meetings.

Crookshanks asked the deputies to sign a letter stating “I approve of the discussion of the sheriff’s internal investigation regarding my employment in the sheriff’s department.”

None of the deputies responded to her letter.

“I don’t agree that this is a personnel issue, this is a workplace issue and I don’t agree with your letter you sent,” Commissioner Lowell Rose told Crookshanks. “And I don’t feel the sheriff has adequately responded to what we requested.”

Commissioner Brad Tuckwiller said although it “appears that some of county’s personnel handbook rules may have been violated,” lawyers for the county commission told him the commission has no legal authority over the sheriff to do anything about it.

Tuckwiller then suggested a letter be sent to the sheriff.

The content of the commission’s letter will request that Sheppard conduct “a prompt, reasonable and disinterested investigation,” ensure that any form of discrimination and harassment be immediately stopped; and ensure that no employee is retaliated against for reporting anything.

“As an elected official, we agree that you have primary responsibility to supervise the employees of the Sheriff’s Department. However, as the Commission of Greenbrier County, we are also concerned with the welfare of our employees, and we would expect, and have no doubt, that you will do the (aforementioned).”

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In a previous meeting Larry Baxter, president of the Greenbrier County Chapter of the NAACP, said having the sheriff investigate himself was inappropriate and called for Sheppard to resign if the allegations were proven true by an independent investigation.

Baxter attended Tuesday’s meeting but did not speak on the matter and only asked for copies of the letters mentioned by the commissioners.

Afterwards, Baxter said the sheriff’s letter in response to the racial slurs was “inadequate.”

“It’s not my intention to take this brief letter (by Sheppard) and hide with it. It needs to be explored more,” he said.

Baxter would not reveal what steps he may take next.

— E-mail: cgiggenbach@register-herald.com

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