For many, trust in local police is unwavering. Yet there is a lot of evidence that shows a disregard for public trust on the part of local police. From secret department gangs to lying about overtime pay, there are a lot of examples why many shouldn’t be so quick to simply think they can do no wrong. You’d think misusing taxpayer money would be a big no-no. But that’s what one county sheriff may have done. A local North Carolina newspaper The News & Observer report states that one county sheriff used taxpayer money to buy cars from his own family’s dealership, violating his department’s policy.
Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell purchased seven cars and 40 gas masks because, you know, the apocalypse is coming. The grand total for this purchase was $260,000. In any other situation, this may not seem like a big deal. Departments across the country purchase vehicles and equipment for their patrol fleet all the time. The problem here is that Bizzell has personal ties to the dealer, one Deacon Jones Auto Group: his daughter is married to the owner’s son, and she works there.
He also violated department policy by not even getting a quote for the purchases first. Per The Observer:
In each of those purchases, the Sheriff’s Office failed to obtain three written quotes from vendors first, which is required under county policy for all purchases between $7,500 and $89,999.99.
The seven vehicles Bizzell purchased were:
- A 2019 Chevrolet Tahoe purchased on Feb. 8, 2019 for $48,200
- A 2018 Ford Taurus purchased on June 11, 2019 for $25,500
- A 2018 Ford Taurus purchased on Dec. 6, 2019 for $21,500
- A 2020 Ford F-250 purchased on Jan. 2, 2020 for $37,949
- A 2020 Chevrolet Tahoe purchased on April 14, 2020 for $38,300
- A 2020 Chevrolet Tahoe purchased on April 14, 2020 for $38,800
- A 2020 Chevrolet Tahoe purchased on April 14, 2020 for $39,800
The resulting internal audit done by the North Carolina Office of the State Auditor found that Bizzell may have used more taxpayer dollars than he should have. Though it isn’t known how much more.
Things get worse when you find out that instead of disciplining Bizzell, the county is seemingly making excuses for his actions. Emphasis mine:
Johnston County Attorney Jennifer Slusser said in an email that the county had “received no evidence that (Bizzell) engaged in an impermissible conflict of interest.” She added that the Board of Commissioners believed he “was acting in good faith seeking to save taxpayer money.”
Bizzell said his office conducted research to find the best price, but he was unable to provide any supporting documentation, according to the OAS report. He told the state he did not keep documentation because “if I can’t be trusted as the sheriff, who can you trust?” according to the state audit report.
Bizzell’s explanations for some of the purchases don’t make much sense either. Take the timeframe for instance. If you notice the dates, the purchases were either early 2019 or just before or right after the pandemic started. This includes the gas masks. Bizzell claims the masks and three of the vehicles were purchased because of the pandemic and civil unrest. Except the gas masks were purchased in 2019, when there was no civil unrest.
All this amounts to a blatant disregard of public trust. And while the county eventually agreed with the audit’s findings that the department should follow and enforce its own policy, it’s all really a slap on the wrist. If a police department needs an audit to be told to follow its own policy, there are way bigger problems.