SEBRING — The head of the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigation Division will be suspended for 24 hours and be required to receive additional training because of the way he treated subordinates, Highlands County Sheriff Susan Benton said Monday.
During the next six months and possibly up to a year, Capt. Randy LaBelle, a 20-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, will be required to work out of the main sheriff’s office and handle special projects, while the lieutenants and captains will carry out supervision of the Criminal Investigation Division.
Benton said she rejected a recommendation from Maj. David Paeplow that LaBelle be demoted to lieutenant and be placed on six months corrective active probation and supervisory training.
In general, she said, the situation stemmed from LaBelle’s concerns that sheriff’s deputy Amanda Dettman, a former detective, was spending too much time in a room where access is generally limited to detectives.
LaBelle told supervisors under him they were to deal with the situation, but was not happy that Dettman’s access continued to remain the same, Benton said.
Upset over that, LaBelle called Lt. John Barcinas and Sgt. Chris Smith into his office and lashed out at them, Benton said.
It was determined he did not communicate with them in a proper way, she said. Paeplow’s report said that during the meeting LaBelle cursed, yelled and slammed his hand down on the desk.
There was also an allegation that LaBelle said he would punch Smith, but LaBelle said he did not make the comment as a threat but as a way to break the ice with the sergeant after the previous meeting regarding Dettman, Benton said.
A report stated that while inside the Criminal Investigations Unit office, LaBelle commented that he “regrets not punching (Sgt. Chris) Smith in the face. “
At the time, Smith was within hearing distance and LaBelle had been notified he was part of an internal affairs investigation in which Smith testified as a witness, Paeplow’s report stated.
Additionally, when investigators questioned Dettman, she made allegations that LaBelle sexually harassed her in 2010 and discriminated against her.
But those allegations were not sustained, the sheriff said. Benton said that although some colleagues confirmed that Dettman told them about being sexually harassed in 2010, they never saw that happen.
In the wake of all that, LaBelle will be placed on corrective action probation for one year with monthly performance reviews completed by Paeplow and reviewed by Chief Deputy Mark Schrader.
LaBelle also will be required to complete supervisory remedial training within three months, attend ethics training within six months at his own expense and on his own time, attend 24 hours of training in leadership/staff management /effective communications within one year at his expense on his own time and report to the sheriff for close supervision.
The report said that LaBelle violated three general orders. Those involve avoiding words, actions and attitudes that could have undesirable consequences, respecting colleagues and respecting, promoting and contributing to a workplace that is safe, healthy and free of harassment in any form.