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Sheriff denies relationship with Barham

Sheriff denies relationship with Barham
Sheriff denies relationship with Barham
Deanna Ward, 19, Corydon, speaks to the commissioners Monday night on behalf of Harrison County Sheriff's Corrections officers. Sheriff Mike Deatrick listens behind her. Chief Gary Gilley is at left. (Photo by Jackie Carpenter)

As he left the Harrison County Board of Commissioners’ meeting Monday night about 11 o’clock, embattled Sheriff Michael Deatrick denied any favoritism or personal relations with controversial corrections officer Andrea Barham.
‘I have never touched that woman,’ Deatrick said, adding that he is willing to take a lie detector test to prove it.
He said his employees have plotted against Barham and harassed her, contrary to the opposite claims of those employees. The sheriff said each of the complainers has made mistakes themselves.
Backed by family members, about 10 past and current employees of the sheriff’s corrections department leveled complaints Monday night against their boss for more than an hour.
Many of those complaints were posed by Deanna Ward (daughter of Glenn and Mary Ward, an eight-year corrections employee) in the form of some 23 requests for answers and/or help in dealing with Barham. Ward said the department employees want to know what will happen now that the sheriff has refused to dismiss or demote Barham in keeping with the commissioners’ sternly written demand earlier this month.
In a Sept. 7 letter, the three commissioners told the sheriff:
‘Due to the concerns of the Harrison County Commissioners on the performance and conduct of Andrea Barnham (sic), in her capacity as a corrections officer, the Commissioners are demanding that she be removed from her position by 2 p.m. today.
‘We are prepared to terminate Ms. Barnham ourselves, at the end of the day, if you fail to comply with this request.’
Corrections employees said Barham has not been relieved of her lieutenant’s rank, as the sheriff said in a story in last week’s newspaper that she would be. And although Barham spends some time in the central control room apart from the other employees, she frequently leaves that post and continues to give orders, the sheriff’s employees said.
‘She does not do that,’ Deatrick said, claiming the opposite occurs. ‘They keep running over there. I said, ‘Andrea, you do your job. You stay here (in the control room); you call for a break and that’s that.’ ‘
Barham was not at the commissioners’ meeting and could not be reached yesterday for a response.
Deanna Ward and others in the audience said Barham has harassed them with name-calling, racial and ethnic remarks, and jokes. They said she has created a hostile and chaotic work environment, frequently receives favoritism from the sheriff, does not follow rules she imposes on others, frequently changes employees’ shifts in retaliation, and fails to follow policies and procedures in the county employee handbook.
‘They work every day not knowing if they will have a job tomorrow,’ Ward said. ‘They only want to keep the county, its employees and inmates safe and hassle free.’
Deatrick had some complaints of his own. He told the commissioners:
‘They’re going to find fault no matter what. We’re in the process of trying to break up a clique.’
He said the workers’ shifts will be switched to resolve the problem.
There’s not much the commissioners can do, because elected officials are responsible for managing their departments, said commission chair J.R. Eckart.
‘Sheriff Deatrick is elected to head your department,’ Eckart said. ‘The people who are elected are strictly governed by state codes. The county commissioners don’t have authority over the jail, and we don’t have any intention of running every department.
‘We’re not happy,’ he said. ‘That’s why we’re working with the sheriff. It’s going to be slow change.’
County attorney Christopher Byrd said he and the commissioners have been contacted by several sheriff’s employees regarding the situation. ‘We have attempted to mitigate this situation,’ he said, but added that under state statute, the commissioners ‘do not have the power to control the sheriff’s actions.
‘We cannot go in and tell the sheriff how to run his office.’
Commissioner James Goldman said, ‘We have been working with the sheriff. He’s been very cooperative. This has to be worked out between the sheriff and the employees.’
‘Personally, I just wish everyone could be treated fairly,’ said Commissioner Jim Heitkemper.
‘Where do we go from here?’ asked Ward.
Eckart said if the employees feel their work environment is unsafe, they can appeal to U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or if they feel discriminated against, to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Civil lawsuits are another option. Or if criminal acts are alleged, they should be taken to the prosecutor.
As they left the room, several corrections officers said, ‘We expect to be fired shortly.
‘We’ll draw our unemployment and prepare for lawsuits.’

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