STEUBEN COUNTY, N.Y. (WETM) – Steuben County Sheriff Jim Allard says he has filed a petition with the New York State Supreme Court to stop two “unprecedented resolutions” made by the County Legislature. In a press release, Sheriff Allard said a divided legislature passed the resolutions “with virtually no public input or debate” and stripped him of “legal defense and indemnification against lawsuits that the County Legislature unanimously gave me just six years ago. Sheriff Allard said he could not speculate about motives, “except to say that this comes after years of moves by a handful of members of County government to undermine confidence in my administration.”
In an interview with 18 News, Sheriff Allard said “This makes me fear for every member of the sheriff’s office and for every citizen in Steuben County that these types of acts could so negatively devastate public safety here Steuben County. Not only has it never been done before in any other county, but I don’t believe it’s ever even been attempted before in any other county.”
Lawsuits against the Sheriff’s Office used to be handled under a County-wide policy for all departments. Sheriff Allard says without any reason, the County is “imposing an unlawful requirement on me to purchase millions of dollars in liability insurance.” Sheriff Allard told 18 News he would have to pay for the policy out of his own pocket.
“That’s the resolution, that I would have to personally purchase 1 million and 3 million in liability insurance in order to continue doing my duties.
“But why does it have to come out of your pocket?” asked 18 News reporter Nick Dubina
“I can’t guess at why the legislature did what they did,” said Sheriff Allard. “It would appear to be an attack on me. Obviously, I probably can’t afford that. But what it’s going to do is effectively remove me from my duties and responsibilities with the sheriff’s office. It would remove me from my leadership role with the sheriff’s office. By not being able to do my duties and responsibilities and then devastate the public safety for the citizens of Steuben County by having a Sheriff’s Office that’s basically in limbo.”
In his press release, Sheriff Allard said the second resolution “takes away from the protection that the County gives to other officers and staff against being sued for performing their duties.”
“Does that mean Sheriff’s deputies that are out on the street right now, they no longer have the protections they used to have?” asked Dubina.
“I’m not sure how it’s going to affect them,” said Allard. “That’s the other issue. It’s just really unclear if the indemnification reaches them or stays with me, I just don’t know.”
Sheriff Allard says the uncertainty is already making it harder to recruit new deputies at a time when law enforcement nationwide is having trouble finding new candidates.
“It affects every level of our administration and every level of employee, both on the morale and in the lack of confidence that the County will have their back when the chips fall. They’re out there making split second decisions every day on public safety issues, and they don’t need that doubt in the back of their mind.”
In a statement, the Chairman of the Steuben County Legislature called it a “difficult decision that was not made overnight.” Chairman Scott Van Etten wrote in part: “The County must ensure that the laws of New York State that protect our employees from harassment and discrimination are enforced across all departments, including the Sheriff’s Office. To ignore or do otherwise would be a disservice to our staff and open the County taxpayers to tremendous liability. Any subsequent lawsuit would be a cost paid by our residents.”
“Since at least the end of June, the Sheriff has been aware of the serious concerns of the County, and instead of taking steps to find compliance with State law, the County has been met with half-truths, deflection, and legal threats. To claim no explanation has been given is patently false and is a public statement the Sheriff can now not take back,” wrote Van Etten. “These resolutions have no financial or operational impact upon the men and women in uniform who faithfully serve our County. The resolutions impact Sheriff Allard alone.”
You can read the full text of the resolutions passed by the Steuben County Legislature here.
Below, you can watch Sheriff Allard’s full interview and read his full press release, followed by the full statement from the Chair of the Steuben County Legislature, Scott Van Etten.