Hancock County

Hancock sheriff tightens grip on DHS investigation

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HANCOCK COUNTY -- Sheriff Ricky Adam said he will not let anyone, not even Attorney General Jim Hood, take over his office's investigation into complaints of altered documents lodged against the Department of Human Services.

"No one will be taking over the investigation," Adam said. "It was ours from the beginning, and it's going to stay ours."

In February, Adam announced his office had launched a formal probe into allegations DHS employees used forged or falsified documents in child-custody cases, some of which resulted in children being taken from parents.

Last week, Hancock County Assistant District Attorney Chris Daniel said there was a possibility the Public Integrity Division, an investigative arm of Hood's office, could take the lead or at least assist in the probe.

Daniel said he would support involvement by Hood's office but he also agreed with the sheriff.

"We are in agreement with the sheriff that the investigation will continue whether the AG joins them or not," he said. "The sheriff has been very engaged on this, and we expect that will continue and may evolve into a joint effort with the AG."

Involvement by an outside agency, Daniel said, would maintain the public's confidence in the objectivity of the case.

The sheriff's office is already receiving assistance in the investigation from DHS internal affairs.

"We gave them every opportunity from the very beginning to get involved in this case," Adam said last week of the Attorney General's Office.

Sheriff's investigators received the first fo­rgery complaint several months ago and determined the evidence warranted a criminal investigation by a higher authority, prompting an unsuccessful request for the attorney general's involvement, Adam said.

When Adam first launched the investigation Feb. 20, Jan Schaefer, Hood's public information officer, responded to Sun Herald questions about the forgery complaint and said they determined it to be a "personnel matter."

Schaefer's comments remained unchanged through additional inquiries last week, but Monday she issued a slightly different response.

"Per our policy," she said, "we can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation."

So far, the probe has not produced any charges, but at least one DHS employee has been terminated since the allegations surfaced.

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