by Ivan Foley
Platte County Sheriff Richard Anderson this week released a somewhat detailed description of the results of a personnel investigation in his office.
Captain Steve Johnson was suspended by Anderson on July 25 and his resignation was announced a few days later. The sheriff’s department to this point has stayed relatively quiet when it comes to details surrounding the matters that led to Johnson’s suspension, other than to say the action was taken for violations of policy.
The Landmark weeks ago first reported the suspension was tied to Johnson’s connection with Davis Collision and Tow service of Platte City.
Last week, a special prosecutor from Cass County announced there would be no criminal charges filed against Johnson in the matter.
“While the conduct of the Platte County Sheriff’s employee may give rise to the appearance of impropriety and may have merited internal discipline, the investigation has revealed insufficient evidence to support criminal charges,” said Teresa Hensley, Cass County prosecutor assigned to review the results of the investigation of Johnson.
This week, the Platte County Sheriff’s Department issued the following press release on the Johnson matter:
“During the course of an unrelated investigation the Platte City Police Department became aware of information which alleged that Platte County Sheriff’s Captain Steve Johnson had acted in an unethical and improper manner by receiving money for working on county vehicles for a private business, Davis Collision, after the work had been awarded to the business through a bid process. The information also indicated that Johnson had acted inappropriately during the bid process by insuring that the contract was awarded to Davis Collision.
“The Platte City Police Department made Sheriff Anderson aware of the information they had obtained. Based on Johnson’s role as the official who administered the bid process, wrote the bid specifications and made the recommendation to approve the Davis Collision bid for setting up Sheriff’s Office vehicles, Sheriff Anderson determined that an investigation was warranted.
“Sheriff Anderson requested the assistance of Cass County Sheriff Dwight Diehl and the Cass County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Anderson decided to seek the assistance of the Cass County Sheriff’s Office since the agency is far enough away that it would be unlikely that Cass County officials would be familiar with any of the people involved in the investigation; yet close enough to effectively assist in the investigation.
“During the course of the investigation, several people associated with Davis Collision and the Platte County Sheriff’s Office were interviewed. The investigation resulted in Sheriff Anderson discovering various areas of conduct on the part of Johnson and Davis that he believed were unethical and improper. One of the interviews conducted was of Steve Johnson. During his interview, Johnson admitted to the conduct which led to his suspension.
“The investigation revealed that Johnson had worked with Marcellus “Skitch” Davis to construct the Davis Collision bid for setting up of Sheriff’s Office vehicles and recommended that Davis Collision’s bid be approved. In 2008, Sheriff Anderson instructed Johnson that the vehicle set-up work needed to be performed by an outside provider and directed him to conduct a bid process to determine who the outside provider would be.
“Prior to the advertisement for bids Johnson and Davis agreed that Johnson would help write the Davis Collision bid and that Johnson would set-up the vehicles and receive a cash payment equal to approximately half of the net proceeds from the contract for his work. Johnson received a single cash payment in 2008 and 2009 respectively for his role in the matter. Johnson stated that he received between $10,000 and $11,000 in cash between 2008 and 2009. Prior to the contract, Johnson had set-up the Sheriff’s Office vehicles as part of his duties. Because of Johnson’s job classification, the set-up work was performed without additional compensation to Johnson.
“Davis Collision received approximately $18,000 for setting up Sheriff’s Office patrol vehicles. Davis Collision received an additional $3,000 for setting up investigator vehicles. While Johnson did not recall receiving an additional payment for the investigator vehicles, he stated he had the same arrangement with Davis regarding those vehicles and that he (Johnson) had set-up the vehicles.
“Johnson also admitted that parts from county owned vehicles had been resold to the county. The Sheriff’s Office had a practice of using county funds to purchase Sheriff’s Office vehicles that had been totaled back from the county’s insurance company to use for parts. Johnson would then use parts from the totaled vehicles to repair other Sheriff’s Office vehicles. Once Johnson felt that he had received sufficient value out of totaled vehicles he would, without authorization, give the vehicles to Davis so that Davis could use the remaining parts on Sheriff’s Office vehicles and bill the County for the parts.
“This practice effectively caused the County to pay for the parts twice. Johnson stated that he thought this practice was reasonable because Davis did not charge the county for the storage of vehicles parked at his lot. Johnson claimed that he stopped giving Davis the totaled vehicles in 2005.
The proceeds from this practice were used to create a cash fund known as the “weekend fund.” The weekend fund was kept in an envelope at the Davis Collision office with Steve Johnson’s name on it. Johnson estimated that the weekend fund grew to between $2,500.00 and $3,000.
According to Johnson the weekend fund was depleted a year and a half to two years ago. The money in the weekend fund was used at the discretion of Davis and Johnson to pay for items such as lunches for themselves or others and to buy tools for Davis and for Johnson. Johnson claimed that most of the tools that he purchased were used in repairing the Sheriff’s Office fleet.
The investigation uncovered conduct that could give rise to criminal charges so Sheriff Anderson decided that the investigation should to be reviewed by a prosecutor. The Cass County Prosecutor’s Office was appointed to be a special prosecutor and the investigation was turned over to the Cass County Sheriff’s Office for a final review and for them to present the investigation to the Cass County Prosecutor.
Johnson’s suspension came after his admissions to Sheriff Anderson but before the investigation was concluded. Sheriff Anderson believes that the suspension of Johnson and the referral of the case to prosecutors were reasonable and appropriate based on the information uncovered by the investigation.
“Sheriff Anderson stated that ‘the policies and procedures of the Sheriff’s Office apply equally to all members of the Sheriff’s Office regardless of rank or tenure. The mission statement of the Platte County Sheriff’s Office states that ‘We are the custodians of the peoples’ trust.’ Steve Johnson’s actions violated our agency’s policies, were outside the scope of his authority and potentially unlawful. His actions could have undermined the public’s trust and confidence in the Sheriff’s Office.’
“After reviewing the case the Cass County Prosecutor’s Office declined prosecution in the matter,” the press release concludes.