Sheriff Jim Gillum seemed relieved this week at the outcome of a state investigation into his personnel department. State Attorney James T. Russell concluded that there is insufficient evidence to support criminal charges. Still, there are several serious allegations contained in a report by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement regarding the handling of sheriff's office personnel files that should not be brushed aside without further examination.
The most disturbing is that two of Gillum's officers said in sworn statements that they were present when the commander of administration, James O'Keefe, directed personnel director Nancy Grantham to have her staff retype and back-date documents being entered into personnel files.
One of the officers, a sergeant with three and a half years of experience in the department with a good record, kept a written record that says he later saw Grantham hand a fellow officer back-dated material and tell him to enter it into a personnel file.
These are significant accusations. Tampering with public records is defined as official misconduct in Florida Statutes.
It can bring penalties of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The accusations hardly can be dismissed with a blanket denial, especially since a sheriff's office clerk corroborated the deputies' accusations to FDLE investigators.
The accusations also carry ominous political overtones. During his race against former sheriff John Short in 1988, Gillum made use of the fact that Short had failed to conduct adequate employee background checks while in office. The FDLE report makes it appear that Gillum is guilty of the same omission.
He can hardly allow that appearance to stand _ especially since the FDLE report says that as many as 62 files were altered in some way.
It is curious that Russell so quickly decided that the FDLE supplied insufficient evidence to support criminal charges.
Apparently, he chose not to believe the two officers' accounts of what happened in regard to records.
It is doubly strange since state prosecutors routinely base cases upon the testimony of such officers as those who brought forth this evidence.
Gillum acknowledges that "there are holes in the system" that need to be fixed. He says he will talk to those involved himself and then issue a comment.
Clearly Gillum realizes that the FDLE report has seriously undermined the credibility of his office and he needs to restore it.
But in the process, it is disquieting that he has returned O'Keefe and Grantham to their positions following a month's paid leave during the investigation _ even though they are the same people the two officers swore were behind the file alteration scheme back in March and April.
If Gillum has any inkling that there is foundation for the accusations, he should realize that other employees will feel uncomfortable coming forth to confirm it as long as their bosses are looking over their shoulders.
Putting O'Keefe and Grantham back in so quickly makes it appear that Gillum doesn't really want answers, but, instead, wants everyone to keep quiet until the incident fades away.