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Chief gave false job referral

Dunnellon Police Chief E. W. McCracken gave false and misleading information to Marion County sheriff's officials and authorities at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement concerning a former Dunnellon reserve police officer, according to records.

Dunnellon police records show that reserve officer Darren Duane Barbree was fired Aug. 2, 1991, after he pawned two city-issued service pistols for $440 in cash.

But McCracken later reported to the FDLE and Marion County sheriff's officials that Barbree voluntarily resigned from the department and was eligible to be rehired.

"I guess I was trying to give the guy a second chance," McCracken said in a recent interview.

Barbree could not be reached for comment Friday.

The discrepancy came to light when a Marion sheriff's official called McCracken to confirm information on Barbree's application.

"I then gave him the particulars on the case and therefore, he (Barbree) was not considered for hiring," McCracken said. "When the sergeant called me, I was obligated to tell what really happened."

The incident is the latest in a series of troubling events in the small town's Police Department. Concern over these incidents led the Town Council late last month to hire a private investigator, Robert Connelly Jr. of Connelly & Associates in Orlando, to examine policies and practices in the Police Department.

Since August, four Dunnellon officers have been fired by McCracken and the Town Council. Another officer recently told council members that he fears he will be fired by McCracken because of racial and ethnic discrimination.

In the Barbree case, official records show that after Barbree left the Dunnellon police force, he was hired by the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission on June 28, 1991, but was fired less than two months later.

When Barbree applied for a job as a Marion County sheriff's deputy in April, McCracken was asked to answer a questionnaire concerning Barbree's employment in Dunnellon.

In that questionnaire, McCracken wrote that Barbree had no disciplinary record at the Dunnellon Police Department. McCracken also wrote that he was not aware of any circumstances that might disqualify Barbree for a position with the Marion County Sheriff's Office.

McCracken gave Barbree the highest marks for honesty and truthfulness and work-related performance. McCracken also added that Barbree has "good potential in law enforcement."

After Barbree's record was checked and it was discovered that he was fired from the Dunnellon police force and the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, Marion sheriff's Sgt. Mel Hahn called McCracken to confirm statements McCracken had written in the questionnaire.

McCracken said he then told Hahn what really happened to Barbree in Dunnellon.

While making a routine check for stolen merchandise, a Dunnellon officer discovered Barbree's name on a pawn shop list. It was determined that Barbree had pawned two of his service weapons.

The matter then was brought to McCracken's attention. "We discussed the particulars of the case and I allowed him (Barbree) to resign," McCracken said. "I had drawn up some termination papers, but the termination was torn up and I allowed him to resign."

McCracken said he felt sorry for Barbree because Barbree was going through marital and financial problems at the time. McCracken also said he would like to rehire Barbree "but he would have to prove himself first."

"It is my belief that this man would have made an excellent officer," McCracken said. "At some point in time, he would be eligible for rehire."