STEUBEN COUNTY, N.Y. (WETM) – In a petition to the New York State Supreme Court, Steuben County Sheriff Jim Allard says the Chair of the Steuben County Legislature accused him of corruption by accepting alleged “kickbacks” involving an increase in the County Jail food budget, and allegedly threatened to punish him. In the petition, Sheriff Allard says an external audit of the jail’s food budget “affirmed the absence of financial malfeasance, contrary to the Chair’s accusations.” Steuben County Legislature Chair Scott Van Etten is calling the Sheriff’s accusations “absurd.”
18 News also confirmed a New York State Supreme Court Judge has issued a temporary hold on two resolutions passed by the Steuben County Legislature last week. In the petition, Sheriff Allard seeks to invalidate the resolutions, describing them as “statutorily defective, arbitrary and capricious, enacted in bad faith, and/or enacted in error of law.”
“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,” Sheriff Allard told 18 News in an interview recorded on Monday.
The Sheriff says the resolutions stripped him of legal protections from lawsuits. The petition says they quote “imposed an onerous requirement” on him to purchase up to 3 million dollars in personal liability insurance. The Sheriff says he would have to pay for it out of his own pocket.
“Every lawsuit since I’ve been Sheriff has been handled and defended by the County and any resolution of that has been done by the County in satisfaction of all. If this was to stand, it would place me in almost in competition with the county as to the settlement of claims,” Allard told 18 News.
According to the petition, in 2017 the Sheriff says the County unanimously approved extending the County’s blanket insurance policy to cover all departments, including the Sheriff’s Office.
In 2019, the petition says the Sheriff became the “target of a campaign of accusation” from the Chair of the Legislature, Scott Van Etten.
In April of 2021, the Sheriff says Chairman Van Etten accused Sheriff Allard of “unspecified ethical violations and of entering into an unlawful contract with a vendor for the Steuben County Jail.”
In May of 2021, the petition says the Chair accused the Sheriff of “receiving kickbacks” in connection with an increase in the Jail food budget.
The resolution says the Chair warned the Sheriff saying, “We can’t discipline you, but we control your budget, and we can take away your indemnification.” In the petition, Sheriff Allard says an external audit of the Jail’s food budget “affirmed the absence of financial malfeasance, contrary to the Chair’s accusations.”
Sheriff Allard says Chairman Van Etten followed through on his threat. The petition says “The next County budget left vehicles and promised manpower unfunded, even as the County showed a substantial reserve fund.”
In an email to 18 News, the New York State Department of State said it has “no authority to finally decide whether the actions of Steuben County in passing the resolutions were right or wrong. Jade Kraft, Director of Media Relations for the New York State Department of State wrote: “However, to be helpful, the Department has outlined the regulatory scheme around defense and indemnification and official undertakings implemented in Counties.”
“Section 18 of Public Officers Law authorizes counties and other public entities to adopt a local law providing for the defense and indemnification of persons and others defined as “employee”. A sheriff is expressly not defined as “employee” in Section 18(b):
The term “employee” shall mean any commissioner, member of a public board or commission, trustee, director, officer, employee, volunteer expressly authorized to participate in a publicly sponsored volunteer program, or any other person holding a position by election, appointment or employment in the service of a public entity, whether or not compensated, but shall not include the sheriff of any county or an independent contractor. The term “employee” shall include a former employee, his estate or judicially appointed personal representative.
The Sheriff’s office is an independent office elected by voters. In a letter addressed to the citizens of Steuben County, the New York State Sheriff’s Association said “The Sheriff is chosen by the People and answers ONLY to the People. He is the People’s Lawman,” said Executive Director Peter R. Kehoe. “The Sheriff’s independence does not always sit well with the politicians who think the Sheriff should answer to them, not to you. You are witnessing an example of that in Steuben County right now.”
In a statement, Chairman Van Etten responded to the New York State Sheriff’s Association, saying in part: “Like Sheriff Allard’s statements, the Sheriffs’ Association open letter is wrong on both the facts and substance. At no time has any member of the Legislature or County government ‘threatened to punish’ Sheriff Allard, as stated in the letter. New York State Law, by default, does not provide a Sheriff with indemnification, it requires an act of the County Legislature to do so. The recent action of rescinding this local law merely requires Sheriff Allard to obtain liability insurance at levels consistent with industry standards, as authorized by State Law.
Interestingly, it should be noted that Counsel for the Sheriffs’ Association has previously, in writing, agreed that New York State Law excludes Sheriffs from automatic indemnification provided to other County officials. These actions in no way impact the rights of citizens, the protection or support of staff in the Sheriff’s Office, or are political in any regard.
The constant accusations that a few Legislators and staff are seeking to usurp the
authority of Sheriff Allard is absurd.”
Sheriff Allard’s petition also noted other alleged accusations. The petition says “The Chair criticized the establishment of a charitable foundation to advance the goals and initiatives of the Sheriff’s Office through voluntary citizen sponsorship, claiming the Sheriff should have sought approval of the Legislature before establishing a non-governmental charitable body. The Chair subsequently urged the Sheriff to mislead the Legislature’s finance committee about the source of a donation received by the Foundation.”
The petition also mentions a dispute between the Sheriff’s Office and the County involving an internal County investigation. The petition says in June of 2023, a County Personnel Officer “informed the Sheriff that a complaint had been received from a deputy sheriff about a potentially-offensive internet meme on the screen of a County computer terminal at a County office building.
The petition says “The Sheriff directed an administrative investigation of the matter and asked Mr. Alderman, the County Personnel Officer, who from the County would be investigating the same, so that the investigators could work together. Mr. Alderman bluntly stated that, not only would the County do its own investigation of the complaint under its policy, but that the Steuben County Sheriff’s Office had no authority to conduct its own. When the Sheriff urged the use of a joint investigation as in past practice, and because the matter was likely to result in discipline (with the Sheriff as the disciplining authority), he received an email from County Attorney Jennifer Prossick falsely accusing the SCSO (Steuben County Sheriff’s Office” of failing to cooperate with the County and construing the SCSO’s position as a “refusal to cooperate” with the County and its policy. Attorney Prossick’s email also flatly threatened that the County would consider rescinding the indemnification extended to the Sheriff by Local Law No. 4 of 2017.”
The petition says “Correspondence from the County manager on July 31 and August 8, 2023 repeatedly asked the Sheriff to affirm his compliance with a list of County policies, and to affirm that the SCSO would not perform administrative investigations, like a bizarre fealty oath.”
Tuesday afternoon, the Deputies Association of the County of Steuben” released a statement to clarify the ongoing legal dispute does not affect deputies and does not impact the public safety of residents.
“The Deputies Association of the County of Steuben represents the sworn law enforcement members of the Steuben County Sheriff’s Office including Deputy Sheriff’s, Investigators, Lieutenant’s, and Sergeants. The Deputies Association is aware of the dispute between Steuben County Leadership and Sheriff James Allard, including the repealing of a local law and a subsequent legal challenge. The Executive Board of the Deputies Association of the County of Steuben would like to ensure to all residents that this ongoing dispute between Steuben County Leadership and Sheriff James Allard does not include the Deputies Association and will not
affect the duties of our members, how the duties are performed by our members or jeopardize the public safety of the residents of Steuben County. The members of the Deputies Association of the County of Steuben remains committed to serving and protecting the residents of Steuben County.”
In a phone call with 18 News, County Manager Jack Wheeler said “What is presented in the petition is vastly different than our record of the facts. There is no impact upon insurance coverage or pay on any members of the Steuben County Sheriff’s Office, except Sheriff Allard.”
Below you can read the full petition filed by Sheriff Allard in New York State Supreme Court, the full response from Chairman Van Etten, and the full letters from the New York State Sheriff’s Association and the Deputies Association of the County of Steuben.