Manatee sheriff: former jail administrator first to violate new policy

rdymond@bradenton.comDecember 29, 2012 

MANATEE -- Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube said Friday that he sent a strongly worded email to every sheriff's office employee about eight months ago regarding the consequences of taking sheriff's office property.

The emails, along with countless meetings held with employees -- and common sense -- encouraged Steube to believe that the issue of use of taxpayer property, which came to light following the taking of jail property by former jail supervisor Maj. James Higginbotham, was addressed.

"I met constantly with employees right after this came to light," Steube said. "We didn't wait for an investigation. We explained to people what the allegations were and that it wasn't going to be tolerated. The new policy went out via email."

But in what has to be a disappointment to Steube, the first violator of the new policy was his new jail supervisor, Maj. An

thony Ackles.

"This is the first violation," Steube confirmed Friday.

Ackles, appointed in April to take over supervision of the jail farm, on Nov. 16 ordered one of his captains to load five pieces of starter firewood in his truck to take home, an internal investigation revealed.

Steube was asked again on Friday what he thoughts were concerning Ackles' actions and if he planned to take the issue up again with employees.

"I have given my thoughts about Major Ackles earlier," Steube said. "People make mistakes. You can't make policies that eliminate misbehavior."

Captain Doug Baird reported Ackles' actions to the professional standards office and was interviewed several days later, the report states.

Ackles, the report noted, returned the wood to the jail farm five days later. He then retired from the sheriff's office.

Ackles "should have known better, especially with everything that went on before," R. B. "Chips" Shore, clerk of the Manatee County District Court, said Friday.

Shore was called upon recently to conduct an investigation into the Inmate Commissary Fund at the Manatee County Sheriff's Office. That investigation concluded that there were insufficient documentation of expenditures and revenues, but no signs of embezzlement.

"I think that Sheriff Steube has handled this very well," Shore said of the Ackles' incident. "I think the employee's departure sends a message that he means what he said. I think the sheriff has a zero tolerance for this type of thing."

Steube has already put into place new processes for documentation of expenditures and revenues, Shore said.

"As far as I know, he has done them," Shore said of his recommendations.

Steube has gone about as far as he can go in warning employees about theft of taxpayer property, Shore added.

"You've got to rely on people's sensibilities," Shore said. "I don't know how you prevent it. It depends on human nature."

Shore said he doesn't think the courthouse has had a problem with taxpayer property being taken by his employees, but the courthouse doesn't have firewood, horse feed, hay and eggs, which were the items taken by jail officials.

"I don't think I have stuff here that most people would want to use at home and if I did, it would be hard to lug out of here," Shore said.

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