Augusta County Sheriff’s Office Accused of Concealing Misconduct Allegations on Accreditation Survey
Photo Credit: Breaking Through News
Written by: Michael Phillips
The Augusta County Sheriff’s Office recently received accreditation from the Virginia Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission, after surrendering accreditation in 2015 for missing evidence, and then being rejected in 2019 for similar reasons. However, new questions have arisen about the Sheriffs Office's handling of misconduct allegations during the accreditation process.
According to an email from Laureen Hyman, Assistant to the Director of the Department of Criminal Justice Services in Virginia, which was provided in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the commission was not made aware of ongoing allegations against the Sheriff's office, including a recent incident in which two police auditors were allegedly assaulted by deputies.
Hyman stated in the email, that the Department was "not aware of any pending regulatory or criminal investigations targeting the Augusta County Sheriff's Office". The duty to report such information falls on the Sheirff and his office in the self assessment process. The Sheriff failed to disclose any active or pending investigations.
The allegations against the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office were brought to light by Breaking Through News. The incident in question involved two police auditors who were allegedly assaulted by deputies during an audit of the department last year. View dash cam video of the assault by clicking here. One deputy involved in the assault remains suspended with pay, and Staunton Commonwealth's Attorney Jeff Gaines confirmed to Breaking Through News last week that the investigation is a "pending criminal matter". Apparently the Sheriff and his accreditation team failed to provide any information about this or other matters involving the Sheriff and his deputies to the Commission.
The accreditation process is intended to ensure that law enforcement agencies are following professional standards, and accreditation by the Virginia Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission is a mark of excellence in the field. The process involves a review of policies, procedures, and practices, but unfortunately the vast majority of the process involves a "self assessment". The Department counts on applying agencies to provide truthful responses to all inquiries by the Commission. The process is finalized by an on-site assessment and ride along, which occurred last month for Augusta County. The Department confirmed it relies on agencies to self report issues that may affect accreditation. That's precisely why Augusta was denied in 2019, because of self reports of ongoing investigations. This time around, it appears tbe Sheriff learned from his past rejections.
The Augusta County Sheriff’s Office underwent the accreditation process and was deemed compliant with the professional standards. The accreditation was issued on March 2, 2023. However, the Sheriff's failure to disclose an active criminal investigation have raised questions about the thoroughness of the process.
The email from Hyman suggests that the Augusta County Sheriffs Office failed to disclose relevant information during the accreditation process, and that the commission was not fully informed about ongoing allegations. It remains to be seen whether this will have any impact on the department’s ongoing accreditation status.
Augusta County Sheriff Donald Smith has not yet responded to requests for comment on the allegations.
In light of these developments, there are concerns about transparency and accountability in the accreditation process for law enforcement agencies. It is essential that agencies are forthcoming about ongoing investigations and any allegations of misconduct, in order to maintain the integrity of the accreditation process and ensure public trust in law enforcement.
Ms. Hyman confirmed that "the VLEPSC Program is not responsible for Mock Reviews or self-assessments of agency files, this is the sole responsibility of the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office". It seems if an agency is willing to mislead the Department, there is little the Department can do, other than reconsider their accreditation. "The VLEPSC Program does not have investigators" Hyman explains, meaning an accreditation is only as good as the word of the applicant.