Troubleshooters: Current and former Clark County sheriff’s deputies appear to pose as newspaper reporters
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Politics has often been described as a full contact sport. One common campaign tactic is to research the competing candidate. The sports metaphor would be warming up before the candidates tangle with each other in public. But Clark County Sheriff Candidate Ed Byers is crying foul.
Byers said a friend of his and a family member in the Carolinas were approached by two men saying they were newspaper reporters back in August. But when he saw video of the incident, that story began to seem like fiction.
“I don’t think either witness really bought it,” said Byers.
Who are the two men standing outside of Ed Byers’ daughter’s home in Lancaster, South Carolina back in August? Byers started asking that question after a surveillance camera captured an SUV pulling into the driveway 495 miles away from Jeffersonville.
The video shows Byers’ future son-in-law, Tommy, on the back deck smoking in his bathrobe. He told WAVE the men said they were newspaper reporters and wanted to get some more information on Byers, who’s the Democrat running for sheriff against Republican Scottie Maples.
Tommy said they asked about Byers’ ex-wife, and his other kids. Tommy didn’t have much to say to them and the two men left about five minutes later.
The pair made another stop at a gym in Charlotte, North Carolina, about 45 minutes away according to Google. There, the gym owner, who is a friend of Byers, told WAVE the men asked similar questions and identified themselves again as newspaper reporters.
“I think it’s in poor taste for one cop or two cops in this case to harass the family of another cop,” Byers said.
Byers sent a photo of Major Donovan Harrod, the chief of detectives for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, to Tommy and his friend. They both said that’s him. He also sent a photo of Kenny Hughbanks, a former CCSO major. Hughbanks resigned from the department in 2019, sells insurance now, and is the chairman of the Scott County Republican Party. Again, they said that’s him.
A sheriff’s office source also confirmed to Byers, the men in the video are both Harrod and Hughbanks.
“Who sent them down there and why are they in an unmarked vehicle in South Carolina,” said Byers.
WAVE checked with the editor of the News and Tribune, a newspaper which covers Clark County. He said they didn’t send anyone to the Carolinas and never hired Harrod or Hughbanks for anything.
The sheriff’s office said no taxpayer money was spent on this trip. A spokesman said the SUV in the video does not belong to the county, and August 25 was a scheduled day off for Harrod. Neither Harrod nor Hughbanks returned calls or emails from WAVE requesting an interview.
“It shows a dubious shadow on their credibility,” Byers said, “I think it’s also they just flat out lied.”
Campaign finance records show Harrod donated $400 to Republican sheriff candidate Scottie Maples’ campaign. Hughbanks has donated $500.
The records show the two were not reimbursed by Maples’ campaign or the outgoing Republican Sheriff Jamey Noel. Maples sent WAVE a text saying neither he nor his campaign has ever paid anyone a single cent to do research or talk to anyone.
Both the Clark County and Scott County Republican Party Treasurers said they didn’t pay for such a trip either.
“Public employees retain most of their political rights, they’re able to vote, able to volunteer for campaigns, they’re able to donate money,” said Trent Engbers, a University of Southern Indiana associate professor.
Engbers said campaign ethics guidelines say be honest. He also said federal law restricts some types of government employees political activities. That may explain the newspaper reporter ruse.
“We would look at this as an abuse of power if they were trying to exert undue influence as law enforcement officers,” said Engbers.
Byers expected people to look into his background as a candidate. He didn’t expect this.
“I think by harassing family members and friends I think that goes beyond oppositional research, that’s a culture of fear and intimidation,” said Byers.
WAVE requested county records including timesheets and emails. A lawyer told WAVE on October 3 it could take 45 days to gather, review and release the records, potentially putting their release after the election.
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