By IVY HERRON
"Why is Jonathan Thomas Lambert -- facing six felony and three misdemeanor charges for his alleged involvement in a domestic dispute that led to a 14-hour standoff with law enforcement -- still a deputy of the Clay County Sheriff's Department?" That is a question at least some residents may ask.
"Lambert was immediately placed on administrative leave after being taken into custody by Indiana State Police," Sheriff Mike Heaton said Tuesday. "A search warrant was obtained by the Indiana State Police to look for evidence and remove all county- issued equipment from Lambert's residence, including his badges, identification, uniforms, weapons, his county vehicle and any other county equipment. He was then notified by certified mail, and one was delivered in person (to the Parke County Jail), about his status."
According to the rules of a disciplinary investigation, an accused deputy must be placed on paid administrative leave until a Merit Board hearing is conducted. The department then has the right to utilize any time a deputy accrued while employed to compensate for his salary during administrative leave, including vacation, personal time and sick days.
"I can assure each citizen of Clay County that not one penny of taxpayer money will be spent on compensation, past the time needed to complete this process," Heaton wrote in a press release. "I also want to reiterate that Jon Lambert, even though still technically employed by the Clay County Sheriff's Department, has no police powers, and no county-issued equipment is in his possession."
The decision of whether or not Lambert will remain a deputy is not Sheriff Heaton's, it is up to the Clay County Sheriff's Merit Board.
"Even though Lambert has been charged with several felonies and misdemeanors, he is still, in the eyes of the justice system, innocent until proven guilty. The criminal outcome is separate from his employment status," Heaton said. "(The department is) following the Merit Board rules regarding violations of the policies governing the deputies, which is proceeding as quickly as possible."
Attorney Howard Williams is handling the paperwork for Lambert's disciplinary action. Williams' services are provided by the Indiana Sheriff's Association,
According to the rules, the record of criminal charges filed against Lambert must be reviewed by Williams, who will prepare a brief determining any justification for violations of policy and recommendations for disciplinary action. A copy of the brief will then be sent to each member of the merit board, the sheriff and Lambert.
No sooner than 14 days after the brief notification, a public hearing will be scheduled for the Merit Board to review the charges and take whatever disciplinary action deemed appropriate.
The Clay County Sheriff's Merit Board will announce the date for the public hearing after the brief notification process is complete.
"Everyone in law enforcement takes a hit when something like this happens -- we get a 'black eye' in the community -- but the public doesn't realize how this affects the officers involved," Heaton said. "Deputies and department members are upset about the whole situation, especially those who worked closely with him. It's a tough time for everyone involved. I want to especially thank the citizens of Clay County for their prayers and support of the department during this difficult time."