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Nepotism alleged Sheriff Sutherland accused of providing promotion questions to his stepson

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:55 PM

Incorrect information was published in Tuesday's issue. The first name of Huron County Sheriff's Capt. James "Jamey" Bracken was misspelled.

A former sheriff's office employee has accused Huron County Sheriff Richard Sutherland of providing questions to his stepson before a promotional examination.

Former Detective Matt Spencer, in a Jan. 24 affidavit, wrote that Sutherland "ordered" him to make a copy of interview questions and provide them to Sutherland's stepson, Jaime Bracken, a detective at the time. Spencer's defense attorney, Gregory Shell, notarized the document and was unavailable for comment this morning.

"When I hesitated, the sheriff told me that he was ordering me to give the questions to Mr. Bracken, that it was not a request. I then gave the list of questions to Mr. Bracken," Spencer wrote.

Sutherland said there is "no way" he commanded Spencer to do that. The sheriff said Spencer probably got the sheet of questions from his conference table, but didn't know what he did with it.

"I wasn't given anything," Bracken, now a captain, said. "That's all I'm going to say about it."

Bracken said Spencer spent of his time with him when he was a detective because of the "natural flow of things," but there was no formal partnership.

The promotion questions originated from the Oberlin Police Department and given during a civil service examination, Sutherland explained. He said he got permission to copy them and later modified the questions to fit the sheriff's office.

"This whole situation stems from criminal charges filed against Mr. Spencer. Mr. Spencer is trying to send up a smoke screen to (spoil) my reputation," Sutherland said.

Spencer faces a July 24 trial on multiple felonies, based on allegations he stole more than $10,000 from the evidence room and making a false insurance claim to cover the missing money. He was the evidence room supervisor at the time.

Sutherland, who fired Spencer in August, said his 33 years in law enforcement has proven he is a trustworthy person. The sheriff described the allegations as mudslinging.

"As far as I'm concerned, his credibility is shot," Sutherland said, referring to the criminal charges. "Matt Spencer lied to everyone in this office for so many years, why should we take credence in what he says now?"

The sheriff declined to be more specific about Spencer's alleged lies.

Sutherland said he has the power to promote officers himself. He decided a promotional board should determine which of the six candidates would be promoted from sergeant to captain.

"I was advised prior to the situation to stay out of it, per a letter from (the union's attorney)," Sutherland added.

The promotional board consisted of: Major Greg Englund, Col. Bob McDowell (also the investigator for the county prosecutor), Chief Virgil Valentine of the Huron County Jail and Sutherland's twin brother, Chief Deputy Bob Sutherland.

"I promoted from their recommendation," Sheriff Sutherland said. He mentioned there were three officers who were "close" to being promoted, but he declined to be more specific.

Bracken said the board told him he was the unanimous decision for the captain's position.

"I felt I deserved it," he said. "My relationship with the sheriff has been a topic in some form or the other since I've been here."

The sheriff's stepson is used to hearing allegations of nepotism. Bracken said people who know him know his reputation speaks for itself.

"The person I feel sorry the most in this is Jaime," Sutherland said, accusing Spencer and Shell of attempting to make Bracken look bad.

The sheriff said he has been friends with Bracken before he married Bracken's mother, Kitty, about 1991.

"I knew Jaime when he was a baby. I saw him grow up through the years," Sutherland explained. "I hired him when he got out of the Marine Corps."

Bracken said the allegations from Spencer and Shell don't bother him. "I consider the source."


These are the questions a "concerned citizen" mailed Monday to the Norwalk Reflector. Huron County Sheriff Richard Sutherland and his stepson, Capt. Jaime Bracken, said the following questions were part of the promotional examination.

1) What qualities or skills do you possess that will make you a successful first line supervisor?

2) What have you done in your career to prepare you to be a first line supervisor?

3) Briefly describe the difference between "management" and "leadership."

4) What are the desired results that one might expect from proper discipline?

5) Describe your greatest accomplishment during your law enforcement career.

6) What is the most significant change that you would recommend to the Sheriff, as a new Captain, that would make the Huron County Sheriff's Office more effective and efficient?

7) How would you overcome the change of status from being "one of the boys" to being a supervisor and part of the Huron County Sheriff's Office management team?

8) How do you handle an experienced officer whose productivity and attitude have declined and is basically "retired on the job?"

9) If promoted to Captain, what three things do you plan to do to make you an effective first line supervisor?

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