Loudon sheriff's captain's dismissal upheld after review

Lost job for taking jail documents off premises

Hugh G. Willett
Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A Loudon County merit service review board Monday unanimously upheld the dismissal of sheriff's office head jailer Capt. Bill Shirk for removing documents from the county jail.

Shirk was dismissed by Sheriff Tim Guider in July when it was discovered the 24-year veteran of the department had been keeping jail inspection and supply requisition records at his home.

Guider testified last week that he was concerned about losing jail certification after a Tennessee Corrections Institute inspector warned him several months prior to Shirk's dismissal about the importance of maintaining the records at the jail.

Shirk contented that he kept the records at his home because he felt they might be destroyed or altered by other supervisors at the sheriff's office who were attempting to discredit him.

After requesting a legal opinion on the correct interpretation of state law making it a misdemeanor to remove documents from a jail, the review board deliberated less than a half-hour before delivering its verdict.

"The real issue is removal and storage of records," said board member and County Commissioner Don Miller.

Shirk's removal of records put the jail at risk of decertification and the county at risk of harm. Shirk could have protected himself from loss of the records without removing the only copies, Miller said.

"He could have put copies in a bank safe deposit box," he said.

Commissioner Wayne Gardin said he was very sorry that the board had to come to the conclusion of terminating Shirk's otherwise unblemished 24-year career for what might seem to some to be a small matter regarding storage of documents.

"Small things can still be very important," Gardin said.

Shirk's attorney, David Wigler, contended that political issues were more important than infractions of the regulations in the jail.

The inspection reports that were deemed so critical by Guider in 2007 were not even being performed prior to his arrival as head jailer in 2004, Shirk testified.

Shirk also testified that the keys to the jail were lost on more than one occasion, resulting in only minor disciplinary action for those responsible.

Although the issues raised by Shirk were deemed not directly relevant to his dismissal, the criticism of procedures at the jail did not fall on deaf ears.

"There are clearly management issues that need to be looked at in the jail and in the entire department," said board member and County Commissioner Bob Franke.

"The sheriff's department has some tightening up to do," said Gardin.

Miller concurred that there were "management" issues to be addressed at the jail.

Attorney Robert Bowman, representing the sheriff's office, said he was pleased the dismissal was upheld but that it was not something to take pride in.

"Nobody likes to see this happen to a veteran law enforcement officer," he said.

Guider said after the ruling: "I'm sorry things had to come to this. If I had known about his concerns about the safety of the records, I would have done something to make him more comfortable."