Sussex County Delaware

Sheriff's Department
Continues to Work

 
Sheriff Vehicles ...

Department Handling Office
Work, Criminal Supboenas

By ERIC MAGILL
Sussex County Online Publisher

Correction | Our Opinion | (Voice Your Opinion)

GEORGETOWN -- The Sussex County Sheriff's Department continues to work without vehicles and without any end in sight to the impasse between Sheriff Robert Reed and the Delaware Department of Public Safety.

Sheriff Reed has been unavailable for comment but sheriff's Lt. J.T. Mumford said on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2000, that while the suspension of the department's five vehicles has created some hardships, the department is still on the job.

"We're doing stuff around the office," said Lt. Mumford, who joined the department in May after serving as a police officer in Rehoboth Beach and Bethany Beach. "We're trying to get criminal supboenas out so the courts don't get too backlogged."

The vehicle registrations were suspended on Friday, Oct. 20, 2000, after Sheriff Reed refused to remove red and blue emergency lights from the vehicles on orders from Brian J. Bushweller, secretary of the Department of Public Safety.

Lt. Mumford said deputies are using their personal vehicles to deliver the criminal supboenas but are "not putting 150 to 160 miles a day on our personal vehicles like we normally do (on the sheriff's vehicles). We're not spending 8 to 10 hours a day (on the job) like we have been."

Delaware Code stipulates that the sheriff and his deputies can be reimbursed for using their personal vehicles on the job, but Lt. Mumford said the sheriff has said they would not be reimbursed under these circumstances.

Lt. Mumford has conducted much of the research that Sheriff Reed is basing his position on.

Lt. Mumford said before joining the sheriff's department he always thought the sheriff and deputies were not police officers, but after researching the Delaware Code, he now believes they are police officers in addition to being peace officers as defined in a passage in the Delaware Constitution that says the sheriff, the chancellor and justices are "conservators of the peace."

"That gives the sheriff very broad powers," said Lt. Mumford.

There appears to be no quick resolution to the matter, and Lt. Mumford said one of two things would have to happen to end the stalemate.

"Either Sheriff Reed has to give in," he said, "or Secretary Bushweller has to let us keep the lights."

Sheriff Reed, an elected county official, has been in a year-long battle with Sussex County Council and Bushweller over the powers Sheriff Reed believes the state's constitution gives him.

The sheriff believes a couple of passages in the constitution and the Delaware Code that imply the sheriff and deputies are police officers entitles the department to exercise police powers such as arrests and traffic stops.

But Bushweller disagreed with the sheriff's interpretation of those passages and ordered that the lights be removed from the sheriff's vehicles by Oct. 20 or the vehicles' registrations would be suspended.

In addition, State Solicitor Michael J. Rich determined that the passages the sheriff referred to do not make the sheriff and deputies police officers and pointed to other passages that he says show that the sheriff and deputies were not police officers.

In his letter to Sussex County Council last week, Bushweller said that anyone caught driving the suspended vehicles would be arrested.

Kimberly Chandler of the Department of Public Safety said the department would not check to see if the vehicles were off the road. She said that other law enforcement agencies would be responsible for such actions as they would be for any individual they caught driving an unregistered vehicle.

Sussex County Administrator Robert L. Stickels has said that the county would not forcibly remove the lights, opting instead to offer to remove the lights from a couple of the cars, an option the sheriff rejected.


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