Upshur County Sheriff Dave Coffman said he would remind his deputies about the policy prohibiting unauthorized people in patrol cruisers, but added he would only address complaints regarding his deputies if the proper protocol is followed.
County Administrator Willie Parker said the commissioners received a complaint recently about a deputy having a civilian passenger in the county-owned vehicle. Parker said that violated a county policy and could put the county in an unnecessary liability issue should an unfortunate circumstance occur.
"The person did not want to be identified to the law enforcement personnel," Parker said. "It is occurring, so we need to enforce our policy that there is not to be unauthorized people in county vehicles, whether there is a complaint or not. That's the bottom line."
Commissioner JC Raffety said the deputies could be held personally and financially responsible if the county insurance provider determines that the deputy was acting outside the policy by allowing an unauthorized person to be a passenger in the vehicle.
Parker said he knows it is convenient to be able to drop a child off at school or a spouse at work using the patrol cruiser, but added it could put the passenger in a precarious situation should an emergency occur during that ride.
"When I put this uniform on and I swore an oath, I put my family in that situation," former Sheriff Virgil Miller said.
Coffman, however, said he would not address hearsay or third-party complaints.
He asked those having an issue involving his department to fill out a complaint form and then meet with him.
"I will take that complaint seriously, and there will be an investigation," Coffman said. "But before I address the complaint, that person will address it behind closed doors and one-on-one with me.
"It's not fair to me, and it's not fair to my staff to punish a person without proper protocol," Coffman continued. "It's opening up another can of worms."
The commissioners have threatened to force deputies to park their cars when they go off-duty if they deem the matter is getting out of control, which would force them to drive their personal vehicles to and from the sheriff's department daily. Longtime deputy sheriff and current county commissioner
Buddy Brady said he sees things from a different perspective in his new role.
He said the county commissioners need to take steps to lessen any legal liabilities.
"When I was a deputy, I didn't see a problem with dropping my son off at school (in the cruiser)," said Brady said. "If I was driving down the street and had an accident, it was my fault and I never would have thought about suing the County Commission."