Local News

Sheriff's office remains mum on Anderson ticket issue

AVON PARK - Avon Park's investigative report on the claims by and against City Councilman Garrett Anderson couldn't settle the question of whether or not Anderson tried to get a traffic ticket "fixed" that was issued by the Highlands County Sheriff's deputy. A few words from the sheriff's office could have provided an answer, but the S.O. wanted to stay clear of The City of Charm's contentious politics. The City Council hired private investigator Al Smith to probe Anderson's ethics claims against City Manager Julian Deleon and Deleon's claims of ethics violations by Anderson. Smith's report cleared Deleon.
Smith investigated the claim that Anderson misused his office by contacting Sheriff's Captain Randy LaBelle in an attempt to have him "fix" a traffic ticket he received. But both Anderson and LaBelle declined to be interviewed by Smith. Anderson said his lawyer, Bernard Dempsey of Orlando, instructed him not to comment. But why did the sheriff's office decline to participate in the investigation authorized by the Avon Park City Council? Highlands Today asked LaBelle why he didn't speak to the Smith? LaBelle responded, "Still don't; I am not going to comment on that," Why don't you want to comment? LaBelle replied, "I am just not going to comment on it; I am not getting caught up in any political issues involving Avon Park." He continued to stress that he would not make a statement. In his report, Smith said he called LaBelle, who said he wanted to verify Smith's identity and would call him back. In his return call to Smith, LaBelle said that "the chief" at the sheriff's office had advised him against being interviewed regarding his interaction with Anderson, Smith's report states, noting that Chief Deputy Mark Schrader is the only person at the sheriff's office with the title of chief. Schrader said Tuesday, that LaBelle did not feel comfortable talking to a private investigator that was hired by the city on a matter that had something to do with the city, but it wasn't a criminal matter and had nothing to do with the sheriff's office. "I told him that was his prerogative whether he spoke to him or not," Schrader said. The private investigator was inquiring about a matter involving the sheriff's office so why didn't the sheriff's office cooperate? Schrader responded, "I don't think we would call that not cooperating." If he was subpoenaed, LaBelle would certainly testify about something that somebody said to him, Schrader said. "He just didn't feel comfortable getting in the middle of what was going on between somebody on the council up there and Julian," he said. "If it had been another law enforcement agency investigating some wrongdoing up there, of course he would of spoken to them, but this was a private investigator." The traffic ticket in question, for running a stop sign, was issued by Sheriff's Deputy John Weed on Dec. 1, 2012. Anderson was elected to office in the general election on Nov. 6, 2012 and he was sworn into office on Jan. 2, 2013. Smith's report states that Avon Park Public Safety Director Jason Lister and Deleon were told by LaBelle that Anderson called him on a weekend asking him to intervene and prevent Weed from citing him. Lister quoted LaBelle as saying he told Anderson that he would not intervene, that the patrol car was equipped with a camera that would have likely recorded the infraction. Smith's report shows. Also, Lister stated that LaBelle said he told Anderson that the proper venue to dispute whether or not he should have been issued the citation was through the court system. According to the Highlands County Clerk of Courts, Anderson paid the $166 fine on Dec. 13 and chose to attended driving school, which he completed on Jan. 28. mvalero@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5826