Sheriff Files Criminal Complaint Against Reporter For Asking Questions He Didn't Like

from the abuse-of-power dept

Sheriff Dean Kimpel in Shelby County, Ohio is facing accusations of sexual harassment, and apparently doesn’t want to talk about it at all. So when a local reporter sent him some emails with questions about the allegations, Kimpel’s response was apparently to file a criminal harassment complaint against the reporter (via Radley Balko). The reporter, Kathy Leese, is understandably upset about this. The city prosecutor is still deciding what to do about the charges, but so far has not approved the Sheriff’s report — so there’s a chance this will be cut short. However, just the fact that Kimpel did this seems like a clear abuse of power against a reporter doing her job.

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Comments on “Sheriff Files Criminal Complaint Against Reporter For Asking Questions He Didn't Like”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Abuse of power..

I don’t know how tight of a relationship there is between this particular sheriff’s office and the local DAs, but it would take a politically tone-deaf DA to want to pursue this harassment claim.

Most of the time, DAs and government prosecutors try to go after cases where is a very good chance that they can win in court. They do this because they have an overwhelming workload, and are expected to have extremely high conviction rates when they do go to trial. The unscrupulous attorneys tend to only get involved in sketchy charges when there is a related benefit for them (such as the Chicago DA going after Project Innocence, or Cuomo grandstanding against Craigslist). I don’t see where the benefit would be in backing this particular sheriff, but again I’m not familiar with the local political landscape.

bap says:

Re: Re: Re:

I am not sure you all have the full story. one of sheriff kimpel’s female deputies told a local policeman that kimpel had sexually assaulted her. after kimpel got word of this he suspended her and after a inhouse investigation he fired her. then an outside department investigated the investigation and found out other crimes were possible committed not to mention the sheriff after claiming he never touched her changes his story to they had sex but it was consensual. she claims she wokeup with memories of him naked in bed with her. since this story about the reporter broke the deputy file a sexaul assault charge agains kimpel. now on to the reporter. it was leaked that the sheriff had a private interview in the sheriff’s office with a young lady that was on the dance roster at the flamingo strip club. that is what she wanted to clear up but he decided to be a moron. as for s this harrassment the sheriffs office is a elected office he is not only a police officer her is the highes ranking official in a county he is and should always be open to pubic scrutiny

Jason says:

Clear abuse of power?

The real question there is which side of the desk was he on when he made the complaint?

If he was acting as Sheriff, then we can talk abuse of power, but if he walked to the other side of the counter wearing his own clothes and made the complaint, he’s within his rights.

As for the incident report, it’d be more inappropriate if things were escalating and he didn’t file a report.

Some other key questions:
Was it his personal email or an official email address? What was the nature of the emails, and how many were there?

I agree it’s all pretty fishy. Smells like an abuse of power, but I’ll stop short of saying it’s “clear.”

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: Clear abuse of power?

No, he isn’t. She was asking him the questions when he had his Sherriff’s clothing on (and whether you are out of uniform or not, you are still a Law Enforcement Officer by the definition in the law books) so she had all the right to ask him those questions about the allegations against him.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Clear abuse of power?

Well, I don’t know. The trouble with this story is that it’s not clear…

You’re over-thinking it. Anyone can go down to the police or sheriff’s department and file a criminal complaint against someone else. You don’t need any special power to do that. Because you don’t need any special power, there’s no abuse of power.

Once again, because anyone can do it, the sheriff did not abuse any power he was given. He used the same right anyone else has.

Now if he used his power in some way to retaliate against the reporter, e.g., have one of his deputies follow her around and ticket her for minor infractions, that’d be an abuse of his power. But that didn’t happen, as far as I know.

Hugh Mann (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Clear abuse of power?

I think this is a good point, generally, but I do wonder if the desk sergeant taking the report has the power to tell the aggrieved citizen to take a hike – or to at least descourage the citizen from filing a complaint that really has no merit. And, then, if the sheriff filed his own report, or had to go through that same desk sergeant.

It might be at least bad form – if not an abuse of power – if the sheriff’s report cleared hurdles a similar report from you or me might stumble over

In any case, there are insufficient facts availble here to really assess whether either party has done anything wrong.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Clear abuse of power?

That might work if the person he’s filing the complaint to doesn’t know them.
1) Unknown person files complaint, person taking this knows it a garbage complaint & it dies right there.
2) Your boss files a complaint, person taking this knows it’s garbage, but given you are the boss, processes it to cover their own but.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Clear abuse of power?

Any officer who arbitrarily threw away a criminal complaint without filing it would be abusing his power.

If the person taking the complaint processed it solely to save his own butt, because he has the power to do so, then he was the guy who abused his power.

Look, I’m not defending the sheriff in anyway. I just don’t see any abuse of power from the facts presented. He used the same right to file a criminal complaint that we all have.

Jason says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Clear abuse of power?

Right, I get that part, but the trouble is it’s not clear that that’s what happened. The difficulty is that what is a “complaint” can mean different things in different jurisdictions.

It may be the kind of standard Sheriff’s office complaint form that we are supposing, or it may be that the sheriff has issued/filed what is known elsewhere as a citation.

The one may or may not initiate an investigation. The other initiates a criminal case in court. The linked article isn’t clear on what it is.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Clear abuse of power?

it may be that the sheriff has issued/filed what is known elsewhere as a citation.

Once again, oh, I see what you’re saying. However, because the article didn’t talk about a citation, and because it’s up to the prosecutor’s office to determine whether to go forward with the complaint, I’m pretty certain it’s was merely a complaint, not a citation.

Hugh Mann (profile) says:

"Clear abuse"???

You don’t want to even see the email(s) sent by the reporter?

Yeah, I suspect that, even if she was being annoying (as many reporters can be), her conduct was PROBABLY not harassing, unless we hear some more facts. But all we have is the report of ANOTHER REPORTER (WHIO TV) telling essentially the subject reporter’s side of things.

Reporters are not magical creatures who can do no wrong. They can be just as obnoxious and sleazy as the worst government official, and it’s silly how often I see that people want to treat reporters as somehow incapable of doing wrong when in pursuit of the “truth”.

I’d like a few more facts before I’d be willing to say there was a “clear” case of anything here.


New Mexico Mark says:

Due process?

While I agree that filing a harassment complaint is probably the worst response he could have made (has he never heard of creating a delete rule in e-mail?), I don’t think this is cut and dried by any stretch.

A sexual harassment charge is terrible, whether true or false. People have had careers and families destroyed by false charges before the charges were proven false. If anyone would know how to manipulate the legal system to present a plausible false charge, it would be someone working within the system. I’m not saying the sheriff is innocent, but right now it is way too early to tell.

Basically, we’re only hearing the reporter’s side of the story right now. Even so, there are some other things to consider.

1. The sheriff has been accused… not officially charged, not investigated, not tried, not convicted.
2. The reporter has the right to ask questions about an accusation. She does not have the right to force anyone, even a public official, to answer those questions. I haven’t seen the questions she is asking, but maybe some of those were in the style of, “How long have you been harassing deputy X and when do you plan to stop?”
3. The sheriff had already declined to answer her questions in person AND by phone. When she started sending e-mails (and it isn’t clear whether this was to an official or personal e-mail account), it starts to sound more like harassment to me.
4. Sexual harassment cases often hinge (rightly) on the argument that “no” means no and continued pressure turns that into harassment. Is a sheriff not entitled to the same standard when approached by this reporter? How many times must he decline to answer hostile questions before it becomes harassment?

There are legal processes for discovery and possible prosecution. Many of these are either public and I presume others may be open to FOIA requests by the reporter as they progress. In this case, the reporter might have crossed some lines in her zeal for a scoop or hit piece before any of the other processes even started.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Due process?

“4. Sexual harassment cases often hinge (rightly) on the argument that “no” means no and continued pressure turns that into harassment. Is a sheriff not entitled to the same standard when approached by this reporter? How many times must he decline to answer hostile questions before it becomes harassment?

Likening sexual harassment to a reporter doing their job is a damn far stretch. First and foremost – the “continued pressure” is not a requirement for sexual harassment. A single incident of inappropriate conduct is sufficient to sexually harass. Second, the Sheriff is a public officer – and thus being a servant of the public they are subject to the inquiries of the public. If his conduct is in anyway counter to the oath he’s sworn to uphold as an officer of the law then it’s in the public’s interest to find out.

Again, it is the reporters job to try and discover as much information as possible – going directly to the source would provide an opportunity to try and get the most detailed and accurate information first-hand (or from the accuser). The Sheriff has every right to decline to answer but the reporter has an equal share of rights for the freedom of press, which in no way is akin to the psychiatric and emotional damage that sexual harassment entails.

Hugh Mann (profile) says:

Re: Re: Due process?

The reporter doesn’t have the right to engage in activity in her pursuit of answers from the sheriff that would be harassment if she were pursuing answers from you or me. The fact that he’s a public servant doesn’t mean it’s not possible for a member of the press to harass him. I think it’s valid to ask how far this reporter actually went in trying to get the sheriff to talk to her.

If she did try to talk to him in person and by telephone, and he declined both times, it may very well be “harassment” to then start sending him emails. The reporter doesn’t have any greater right to get access to public officials than private citizens do, and I’d be willing to be that if you or I started with multiple attempts to get the time of the sheriff, we’d be looking at allegations of harassment and/or stalking.

Of course, we don’t really know all of the facts. Her attempts to contact him may have been all very above-board and kosher. Then again, she may have crossed the line of professional journalism and engaged in behavior that no reasonable person would think was acceptable. We just don’t know either way, based on the facts currently available.


bap says:

Re: Re: Re: Due process?

sorry the office of sheriff is a elected official in shelby county which is kimpels and my county of residence. as a elected official he can not claim harassment because a reporter tried to contact him he can how ever say no comment
or tell her the truth or even a lie even though he keeps getting caught in those. and how do you call a email harassment if thats the case why haven’t these viagra email
people been buried under the jail

Tank Szuba says:

24 hour job

My two cents in response to Jason would be that although I am admittedly not clear on how the law works for elected officials (assuming elected as most sherriffs are) but as an elected official you are one 24hrs a day. regardless of whether or not your are “on duty” or not. I Just dont see how that could pass the sniff test as he is not an “hourly” employee that can check in and out. maybe I am way off base and someone can correct me.

Hugh Mann (profile) says:

Re: 24 hour job

I’m not sure what his duty hours have to do with this. The reporter doesn’t have any sort of right, for instance, to knock on the door of his home at 2am.

If the reporter’s repeated attempts to contact the sheriff went beyond what was reasonable, she can be called on the carpet to answer for it. I think it’s fair to ask questions like whether her conduct was interfering with the sheriff’s ability to do his job. Or whether her emails (which we haven’t seen) strayed beyond merely asking questions and degenerated into outright accusations or something.

He has made the accusation that her conduct was harassing, rather than within the realm of what is reasonable in the context of a reporter and a public official. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. We just don’t know. However, the mere fact that he’s a public figure doesn’t mean he’s got no rights at all and the fact that she’s a reporter doesn’t mean she’s got immunity against prosecution for whatever she does in pursuit of a story.


Anonymous Howard, Cowering says:

Try reading the applicable statute

Nothing in there about whether the person being communicated with is (or is not) a public figure. It’s harassment if the recipient has previously told the sender not to telecommunicate with the recipient or the premises.

Abuse of power comes a lot closer to the situation — how many of you defenders knew the statute existed? The sheriff has specialized professional knowledge and misused that knowledge to attempt to silence someone he’d rather not be talking with.

As long as we’re trying all the possibilities to make the sheriff look good, how about reversing the roles? If the sheriff calls the reporter about a case in which she’s a suspect, would that make his calls harassment? Discuss…

Any Mouse (profile) says:

Harrassment or not

A lot of back and forth going on here. He said, she said sort of things. The problem is we do not know enough to make any sort of assumption one way or the other. Did the sheriff specifically tell the reporter that he would answer no questions, or did he say he would not answer /those/ questions, and the reporter formulated new ones? What were the questions? In what context were they delivered?

In the end, it’s difficult to say if this is harassment or not, though certainly the sheriff is entirely within his rights to register a complaint against the reporter.


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