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Stark County sheriff accused of 'toxic' environment

Stark County Sheriff Clarence Tuhy has been accused of creating a "toxic" work environment, an allegation he says is "not true."

The Stark County Sheriff's Office is having trouble hiring and maintaining staff and some former employees say it's because of the "toxic" environment there.

Ernie Shear, a former SCSO deputy whose resignation was effective Feb. 3, sent a letter to the county commissioners dated Sunday, urging they take action on the situation.

Stark County Sheriff Clarence Tuhy said the environment at SCSO is "healthy" and he has happy employees.

"We've got turnover also, just like any other department, any other business," Tuhy said. "There's some that quit and go to the oil field."

Shear's career in law enforcement spans 12 years, including nearly a year at SCSO. He said issues with Tuhy drove him and others away from the career.

"Right now it just feels like I've had the passion to do this job and the will to do this job just absolutely stomped out of me," he said during a phone interview. "I don't care if I ever get back into law enforcement again and I probably won't."

Marie Bittner, a former SCSO employee who now works as the county's human resources generalist, said she did not have any issues with Tuhy while she worked for him.

"I enjoyed working up there," Bittner said. "The opportunity came for me to move down here and do more of what I had a passion for, and that's HR, so I took the opportunity to better myself. If the opportunity wouldn't have come up, I probably would still be there."

County Commissioner Duane "Bucky" Wolf said Shear's letter is a concern and commissioners are awaiting advice from Tom Henning, Stark County state's attorney.

Henning declined to comment about the letter.

"Right now, all I can say is that it's not true," Tuhy said about accusations in the letter.

Some of the problem with staff turnover may have to do with changes in scheduling and wages, he added.

"You try to be fair with everybody and you won't be able to satisfy everybody," Tuhy said.

Ken Zander, Stark County Commission chairman, said the commission has authorized adding positions to SCSO because of increased calls for service and will likely add more positions.

"I don't personally believe that deputies are leaving for higher wages," Zander said. "A specific reason for their departure -- I'm not really at liberty to discuss their personal issues for leaving."

Shear agrees the lure of higher wages isn't the problem.

"This is a lifelong career that a lot of people retire from," he said. "There's not a lot that's going to make somebody just up and quit and get out of the business altogether."

Shear and at least one other former deputy who did not want to be named say Tuhy has a temper and often yells at his staff. They also accuse Tuhy of being "controlling" and "dishonest."

It's not the first time Tuhy has faced these kinds of allegations.

In 2008, Dickinson City Attorney Matthew Kolling wrote two letters to Henning alleging Tuhy was "bullying, intimidating and being verbally aggressive toward employees within the dispatch division."

In the second letter, Kolling said Tuhy seems to have retaliated on the Dickinson Police Department dispatch employees for complaining about his alleged behavior.

"After receiving my letter, I am informed that Mr. Tuhy entered the dispatch division and said words to the effect of 'I guess I better be careful what I say around here,'" Kolling stated in the letter.

He said the statement caused a further sense of intimidation. However, those incidents did not result in a lawsuit or other legal action, Kolling said. He is unaware of problems prior to or since the 2008 accusations.

DPD Chief Dustin Dassinger said the relationship between SCSO and DPD has improved since then and he is unaware of problems since.

Tuhy declined to comment about the 2008 allegations.

Shear also complained about "inappropriate" sexual comments from Tuhy on duty.

"You get a bunch of cops together and they're going to talk shop and they're going to cuss and laugh and carry on, but we try to keep it clean because there's women in the office and they don't need to hear a bunch of sexual comments and stupid stuff like that," Shear said. "He (Tuhy) doesn't care what he says to anybody."

Tuhy said he encourages staff to voice concerns. Shear said that's true, but alleges it doesn't change Tuhy's behavior.

SCSO has employed 36 people since 2009 and 17 of them no longer work there, according to records. The department has two positions unfilled, Tuhy said.

A hearing at the Stark County Courthouse was rescheduled Monday because there were no deputies available to transport the man accused in the case from the Southwest Multi-County Correction Center to the courthouse.

Tuhy said it happened because some staff had time off and the two deputies on duty were busy with calls for service.

The Press contacted or left messages for 10 past and current SCSO employees, most of whom declined comment. One past and one current employee said they did not want to talk about what it was like to work for Tuhy because they feared retaliation.

"I've got nothing to hide," Tuhy said. "If people want to know, they can come and talk to me."