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Sheriff's office spends thousands on Hawaii trip to check job candidate who turned down job

Agency does home visits as applicant pool dwindles
Posted: 9:45 AM, May 21, 2018
Updated: 2018-05-21 19:49:00-04

BRAZIL, Ind. -- The Clay County Sheriff’s Office spent thousands of dollars to send a chief deputy to interview a job candidate who ultimately turned down the position.

Records obtained by Call 6 Investigates show Chief Deputy Josh Clarke traveled 4,300 miles to Hawaii from January 7 through January 13, staying at the Hilton Garden Inn on Waikiki Beach.

Sheriff Paul Harden explained the reason for the trip was to do a background check on a job candidate, one of three finalists for a vacant deputy position.

“It wasn’t a vacation, I’ll guarantee you that,” said Harden. “"I felt like the Hawaii candidate was top of the line. He had federal law enforcement training, he was a police officer at the time.”

Call 6 Investigates asked Harden if the background check could have been done over the phone or the computer.

“It’s pretty hard to do a home visit on the phone or across the computer,” said Harden. “We do home visits, it’s one of the main things we do.”

The candidate has family in Clay County and came back to Indiana on his own dime as part of the interview process.

“He came to Indiana, but he didn’t bring all his neighbors,” said Harden. “I feel like by going to Hawaii we spoke to his bosses, his co-workers, the neighbors and we had more of an understanding as to why he was willing to come this far."

Harden said he was also concerned about the legalities of excluding the Hawaii candidate.

“I wanted to be equal with all the candidates in the process, that’s part of it,” Harden said.

The Hawaii candidate ended up turning down the job for personal reasons.

“I was disappointed,” said Harden. “He was a good candidate and I was looking forward to him starting.”

Adding up the flight, hotel, rental car, gas, parking and meals, the trip totaled $3,187.36, records show.

Clarke ate at fast food and casual restaurants during his visit, receipts show.

“I didn’t see anything that was out of line,” Harden said.

Sheriff Harden said had the Hawaii candidate taken the job, his training and qualifications level would have saved the agency money.

Call 6 Investigates checked with half a dozen sheriff’s offices in Indiana and found they either require applicants come to them, or they will drive no more than a few hours.

“We limit our Background Investigators to a two hour drive or less,” said Katie Carlson, a spokeswoman for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, in an email to Call 6. “We do not complete home interviews out of state at all.  Investigators contact the local law enforcement agency for the city/county in which the applicant resides to request one of their law enforcement officers assist in completing the home interview for us.”

Harden said it’s very rare to receive an out-of-state applicant.

“I would just as soon not have to travel that far,” said Harden.

Clay County is experiencing a nationwide problem in that a lack of qualified candidates apply for law enforcement jobs .

“There was a time when we would get 40 applicants, and this last time we had only 11,” said Harden. “Our number of applicants is dwindling compared to what it used to be.”

The pay starts at $37,000 a year, and police are facing increased public scrutiny as a result of cell phone cameras and police brutality cases.

The Clay County Sheriff’s Office paid for the trip out of the commissary fund, money inmates pay for inmates and toiletries.

By law, the funds can be used for improving the department such as equipment and training.

Harden said they already do use commissary funds for equipment, training, and televisions for the inmates.

“The fund can be used to better the department in many different ways,” said Harden.

The State Board of Accounts audits the use of commissary funds, but in general, as long as the money is used to improve the agency it’s allowed under state law.

The sheriff’s office is located in Brazil, which is Indiana’s poorest town, according to a new study.

Brazil has a median household income of $29,531, about half of Indiana's median household income of $50,433. 

“It’s been going downhill the last 10 years,” said Chris Foster, a 15-year resident of Brazil. “I’d love to go to Hawaii but I wouldn’t get that chance. It’s like our food pantry right here could use that money.”

The Clay County Sheriff’s Office is trying this unique approach to hiring, which may mean more out of state travel in the future.

“I want people who are the best for our community,” said Harden. “That’s why we do a very strict and stringent process.  I’m not eliminating the possibility of doing this again.”

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