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Sheriff Glenn Ross’ actions worth examination, but don’t rush to conclusions

By Renee Ordway, Special to the BDN
Posted Jan. 20, 2012, at 8:26 p.m.

When Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross arrived atop the Penobscot Narrows Bridge around 5:30 a.m. on Nov. 13, he was met by Waldo County Sheriff Scott Story and the unsettling sight of his longtime friend’s abandoned car on the side of the road and just one of his shoes at the bridge’s edge.

Story had called Ross only about a half an hour earlier and explained that his deputies had found Bob Carlson’s car on the bridge and that they suspected he may have jumped.

On top of that bridge as they watched the search below, Ross said he told Story about the anonymous letter he had received days earlier alleging that Carlson had sexually abused “a young boy several years ago” and about the subsequent Maine State Police investigation. Ross said he also told Story that he had informed Carlson of both of those things at about noon the day before and that he had done so because he felt he needed to restrict Carlson’s otherwise unfettered access to Penobscot County Jail inmates as a member of the jail’s board of visitors.

“Then when they recovered the body, we went down to the water’s edge and we unzipped the bag to make sure it was Bob, and it was, and I went back up to the bridge and sat in my car,” Ross recalled Friday. “I asked if I could speak to an investigator then because I wanted to go home. I was crying. I’m not proud to admit that, but I was. I was extremely upset.”

It’s been made much of that the investigator who interviewed Ross that morning made no mention in his final report that the reason Ross had told Carlson of the investigation was to limit his access to inmates. Instead, the investigator wrote that Ross told Carlson about the case so the well-known and much revered community leader would not be “blind-sided” and because they were friends.

Quickly, however, Sheriff Story came forward and confirmed Ross’ account, saying he indeed had been informed by Ross on the bridge that night that he felt it had been necessary to inform Carlson because of his close contact with the inmates in the jail and that it was his responsibility as sheriff.

Ross is standing behind his decision to inform Carlson of the investigation. Deputy Attorney General William Stokes has said publicly that Ross did not break any laws and the Maine Sheriffs’ Association, of which Ross is president, is conducting an investigation that Ross said he welcomes.

Ross’ close and decades-old friendship and alliance with Carlson, his role as the sheriff having been informed of such a serious allegation and investigation by another law enforcement agency, and his decision to inform Carlson of it two days later certainly make for a bit of a sticky wicket, and the matter probably deserves to have some light shone upon it.

Why Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith felt it was his duty to push forth that headline with late night emails to media outlets is another question.

Smith, of course, threatened to end his affiliation with the Maine Sheriffs’ Association if Ross continued as the group’s president.

The same day the Waldo County Sheriff’s Department report was released, Smith fired off the email to the sheriffs’ association — and the news media — saying Ross had “clearly violated ethical standards by tipping off a sexual predator.” In another email on Friday, Smith said members of the Washington County Jail’s board of visitors “cannot just enter the facility at will.”

Smith called Stokes’ explanation that Ross did not violate any criminal laws “beyond belief.”

So, first off, Sheriff Smith decides in one day, based seemingly on one report, that Ross’ conduct was unethical. He further decides, before the completion of another law enforcement agency’s investigation, that Carlson is a sexual predator, and he decides to share his views with the media. He also decides that the most professional way to present his concern to his professional colleagues is to threaten to leave the organization.

Of course, this is the same sheriff who shot off an email in the wee hours of the morning in 2010 to newly elected Gov. Paul LePage, calling on him to oust Maine Drug Enforcement Agency head Roy McKinney. He said if the governor didn’t do so he no longer would allow his deputies to work with the agency.

He also made that threat back in 2008.

It seems to be his modus operandi — his professional approach to things.

The case involving the questionable past and the suicide of the Bangor area’s well-known and respected leader has shaken the faith of some, challenged the senses of others, and saddened many.

There are many questions, including whether Carlson should ever have had such unfettered access to all inmates and their records. Probably not.

Should Ross have talked with the Maine State Police detective before telling Carlson about the investigation? Probably.

Is it good that the sheriffs’ association is looking into that? Yes.

Do we really want their actions or their decision to be based upon whether or not Donnie Smith will disengage from them?

Certainly not.


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