A veteran Nebraska lawman has resigned following an internal investigation. While his sheriff won't say why, Fact Finders learned it involves trips to pick up prisoners. It's an unusual policy that allowed wives to go along and now that has changed.
Mass murderer Charles Starkweather was brought back to Nebraska in 1958 by Lancaster County Sheriff Merle Karnopp, who didn't have a female deputy to escort accomplice Caril Ann Fugate. “Sheriff Karnopp's wife was the matron to bring back Caril Fugate from Wyoming,” says Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner.
Since then, Lancaster County allowed deputies to take spouses on female prisoner pick ups to save tax money. “If a wife went with a deputy to bring back a female prisoner, they would be treated like an employee,” says Sheriff Wagner. “Their flight would be paid for and per diem paid for so we're saving employee costs and an additional motel room.”
Sheriff Wagner says over the years, he's taken his wife a few times on extradition trips. Bringing back a prisoner, the sheriff or one of his deputies would stand guard outside while the officer's wife would escort a cuffed female prisoner inside to use the ladies room.
Sheriff Wagner has now stopped the practice. This, after Lancaster County paid airfare for a deputy's wife on trips to pick up male prisoners in Austin, Texas and San Diego. The couple also left a day early for one of the trips and since there were no female prisoners the wife going along wasn't needed so the county shouldn't have been billed for her travel expenses. The attorney for the deputy will only say the deputy, who had 17 years on the job, resigned for personal reasons.
Sheriff Wagner said “Some personnel disciplinary action, that’s all I can say." It didn't rise to the level of a crime, but raised awareness of possible liability. “The potential for long-term costs if the deputy's wife would get hurt,” says Wagner. The sheriff said non employees will no longer be allowed on prisoner pick up trips. If it involves female prisoners then two female deputies will be assigned, though that does take them away from their regular duties.
Fact Finders checked with both Sarpy County and Douglas County sheriffs, who say spouses or other non-employees are never allowed on trips to pick up prisoners. That will be the rule now in Lancaster County, which averages about 80 extraditions a year costing about $100,000.
Channel 6 News is not naming the deputy since he was not charged with a crime. Fact Finders spoke with the attorney for the 17-year veteran deputy. The lawyer would only say the lawman resigned for personal reasons.
Fact Finders learned the deputy took his wife on two prisoner pick ups and stayed an extra day on each, but charged Lancaster County airfare and $40 a day per diem for his wife. Both trips involved male prisoners, so it was not necessary for his wife to go along.