CHARLES TOWN — The recent news of the indictment of Sheriff Robert “Bobby” Shirley on charges of civil rights violations may be the most serious legal scandal to befall the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department in recent memory, but it is not the only one. At least two previous Jefferson County sheriffs have found themselves in legal hot water in the last 25 years.
[cleeng_content id="414819784" description="Read it now!" price="0.15"]Ten separate charges of misconduct while in office where brought against Sheriff Donald Giardina by the Jefferson County Commission in 1987.
On Oct. 19, 1987 a three-judge panel dismissed five of the 10 charges for the reason that the alleged events had taken place during his first term as sheriff. Since the panel was deliberating on his performance in his second term, the judges ruled that the charges were irrelevant.
The charges were nonetheless serious. Giardina was charged with selling a repossessed vehicle to one of his deputies for profit, ignoring the laws surrounding the sale of seized property. He was also charged with selling property he had repossessed for the Southern States and then failing to remit payment to the cooperative, damaging a stolen ATV in order to buy it for $25 at a property sale, and converting to personal use a quantity of stolen lumber.
The Commission also alleged that Giardina had used a personal vehicle to take a trip to Atlantic City in 1983.
The dismissal of the charges from his first term left five charges from his second term still before the court. Giardina was alleged to have fraudulently issued a vehicle form to a deputy so he could obtain registration forms though the deputy owed back taxes and was also alleged to have failed to have carried out his duties as tax collector. He was alleged to have responded negligently to a report of an escaped inmate and to have incompetently managed of the county jail. He was also alleged to have used jail inmates to do work on his farm.
On Jan. 26, 1988, Giardina was removed from office by the three-judge panel for “misconduct and malfeasance” related to the fraudulent issuance of vehicle registration to a deputy and for mishandling repossessed property.
After Giardina was removed from office a circuit court bailiff was temporarily appointed to the vacant post until new elections could be held.
The winner of that election was Robert “Bob” Buracker. He would also quickly find himself surrounded by scandal.
By April, 1989, Buracker was making headlines for vocally clashing over policy with the County Commission when President Henry Morrow interrogated Buracker over the alleged use of official vehicles being used to transport his family members. During the same period, citizens were expressing concern over the fact that he had recently filed for bankruptcy.
At a Commission meeting that August, Buracker was further embarrassed when several deputies – including current candidates Sheriff Robert “Bobby” Shirley and Earl Ballanger – came to complain about working conditions under Buracker’s leadership. Several said they had to sometimes take orders from Buracker’s wife and that there were regular threats that they would be fired for petty reasons.
The next month, after several more dust-ups with Buracker, the Commission announced that it would conduct an investigation.
As the situation heated up, Buracker placed reprimands in the files of Shirley, Ballenger, and Deputy Kenneth Mills and fired a secretary after he overheard them making “disparaging remarks” about his job performance.
In September 1989, Buracker fired Shirley and warned deputies Jesse Jones – now the chief of staff at the Sheriff’s Department – and Andy Evans that they would be fired if they refused to testify against Shirley. Buracker, believing that his underlings were going through his files, had bugged his office with a hidden recording device. He claimed to have recorded Shirley going into his office without authorization and rifling through papers, according to published newspaper reports.
Shirley appealed his firing to the Civil Service Commission. He admitted that he had been in the office, but said he had merely been looking for the key to the evidence locker. The Civil Service Commission said they were “not convinced” that Shirley should have been in the office, but ruled that Shirley had to be reinstated to his post.
Petitions began to be presented to the County Commission calling for Buracker’s ouster in late 1989. Buracker complained that Commissioners were on a political “witch hunt.”
At the same time, investigators from the secretary of state’s office began examining Buracker’s campaign finances.
In January 1990, prosecutors charged Buracker with eight misdemeanors and his wife, Barbara, with three. All the charges were related to violations of campaign finance law, including filing “grossly incomplete and inaccurate” campaign finance disclosures.
Six of the charges against Buracker, and all three of his wife’s charges, were dismissed three months later.
That April, the Commission voted 3-2 against beginning proceedings to remove Buracker from office, though they noted particular concern about another incident in which a shotgun was discharged into Buracker’s trunk, puncturing his gas tank. Buracker claimed that vibrations from the car while driving had caused a shell to enter the shotgun’s chamber, and that he had accidentally discharged the gun while unloading the car.[/cleeng_content]