Thursday, October 18, 2007

Potter County Sheriff Indicted On Felony Charges

Last June, I did a couple of post about Potter County Sheriff Michael Shumate being investigated by the FBI. They are here and here. At the time, the Sheriff dismissed the allegations, saying it was just untrue accusations made by his wife because of their rather messy divorce. It looks like a Potter County Grand Jury didn't buy that excuse.

Yesterday, the Grand Jury indictments were made public. They have indicted the Potter County Sheriff on three felony charges -- one 1st degree felony charge of bribery and two 3rd degree felony charges of failing to report campaign donations of $750 and $500.

Robert Austin and his company, Mid-America Services were also indicted on charges of bribery. It seems that Mid-America got the lucrative jail commissary contract by bribing the sheriff. They gave him cash and checks (some of which were the unreported campaign donations), laptop computers, trips, clothing, meals and other items.

The Grand Jury also indicted former Chief Deputy Kenneth Ferren on unrelated charges. He was charged to two class B misdemeanor charges of misusing county employee and inmate labor for his own personal gain. Ferren had resigned last June, when it was learned the sheriff was being investigated, and announced his intention to run for sheriff himself. It doesn't look like that will happen now.

Both Shumate and Ferren turned themselves in to FBI agents yesterday. Channel 7 News in Amarillo reported they had posted bonds and were released.

These indictments are probably a good thing. Maybe now the voters of Potter County can elect an honest outsider who will come in and clean up the mess Shumate leaves. The Potter County Detention Center (Jail) recently failed its state inspection. The jail was cited for overpopulation, inadequate training of employees and failure to properly keep up on jail maintenance.

Maybe a new sheriff can straighten things out at the jail, and bring it up to the level of excellence shown by the neighboring Randall County Jail. There is no reason why Potter County can't have just as well-run a facility as its southern neighbor.

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