Thursday, October 20, 2005
Call from father-in-law Posthumus eased jail guard's penalty
Kent County, Michigan - Kent County Sheriff Larry Stelma was prepared to place a jail guard on lifetime probation for drunken driving -- until he spoke with a former lieutenant governor.
Dick Posthumus, who ran for governor as a Republican three years ago, talked the sheriff into reducing the probation to three years, Stelma said.
The guard, Bradley Lyons, 26, is married to Posthumus' daughter, Lisa.
Stelma on Wednesday provided details of the discussions after The Press questioned him about Lyons' arrest last summer.
"We went back and forth," Stelma said of his telephone conversations with Posthumus shortly after the June 25 arrest of Lyons in northern Barry County. "It was an exchange. I don't know who called who first."
Stelma, a Republican, has listed Posthumus as a personal reference in campaign literature. He said Posthumus "never talked about the severity of the discipline" -- a 10-day suspension -- and didn't fight for Lyons' job, which wasn't in jeopardy.
"He only felt it was a positive life-changing experience for him -- a wake-up call," Stelma said.
Posthumus said he called the sheriff as a worried father and as Stelma's friend because he was concerned about the severity of the punishment. He had heard that the sheriff was treating his son-in-law -- whom Posthumus helped get the job -- too harshly, but he also wanted a punishment "severe enough to help him (Lyons) with his problem."
He denied using political influence. "I'm a private citizen," Posthumus said.
Lyons said he didn't ask his father-in-law to contact Stelma and doesn't believe he influenced the sheriff. "I definitely wasn't shown any courtesy due to Dick," he said.
Lyons, a Lowell High School graduate and graduate of the criminal justice program at Grand Rapids Community College, joined the sheriff's department as a cadet in June 2000.
The sheriff's department hired Lyons as a guard in September 2001, after getting a letter of reference on state letterhead from Posthumus, who was still lieutenant governor.
"Brad is a person of upstanding character," Posthumus wrote. "He operates on ethics and responsibility, and I am confident that Brad would display those characteristics on the job."
Posthumus said he didn't use political influence to get his future son-in-law a job. Lyons and his daughter were dating and had no plans to marry, he said. He said he's written hundreds of similar letters "to help give kids a start."
Lyons proposed to his daughter the following year, at Posthumus' victory party after he won the Republican gubernatorial primary.
In annual reviews, Lyons was described as ambitious, professional, capable and trusted, and he eventually moved out of the jail to work as a deputy transporting prisoners.
On June 25, Lyons was three miles from his home in Alto when state police arrested him at 108th Street and Freeport Road in Barry County for drunken driving and carrying a concealed weapon while intoxicated -- misdemeanors carrying up to 93 days in jail.
Kent County sheriff's officials said the pistol belonged to Lyons and wasn't his service weapon. They have taken away his service weapon indefinitely, they said.
Stelma said he wanted to fire Lyons, but that would have led to expensive arbitration, which the county would have lost.
"You are not going to fire on a first offense," he said. "I think we were harsh on him."
The sheriff's department suspended him for 10 days without pay and re-assigned him to work inside the jail, records show.
The arrest also led to a "last-chance agreement," signed on July 14, requiring Lyons to undergo detoxification and to remain alcohol-free. Violation could lead to "automatic discharge" with no chance for arbitration, the agreement states.
Stelma said he originally pushed for a lifetime "last-chance agreement," but Posthumus told him he believed that was unfair. Stelma ultimately agreed.
About once a year in West Michigan, an officer is arrested for drunken driving, said Fred LaMaire, labor representative for the Police Officers Labor Council, which represents officers in most local departments.
Only in extreme cases -- such as when an officer drove drunk while headed to work -- does a first-offense lead to firing, he said. He said arbitrators have overturned lifetime "last-chance agreements."
Often, first-time offenses lead to suspension, he said.
That was the case for Rockford Police Officer Nicole Abbott, who was suspended for two weeks without pay after a drunken-driving arrest in August 2002. She was fired after a second arrest three months later.
"Some might say, if an officer had two or three drinks, they're not going to end a career over that," said LaMaire, whose union represents command officers in Kent County but not corrections officers. "Some take it as a more serious violation. Some say, 'There but for the grace of God go I.'"
Lyons pleaded guilty on Aug. 2 to impaired driving, and the weapons charge was dismissed, court records show. He was sentenced the same day to six months probation with credit for one day served in the Barry County Jail and his license was restricted. Records show he's enrolled in court-ordered counseling and has paid $800 in fines and costs.
"It's taken care of, as far as I'm concerned," Lyons said.
See our complete collection of bad behavior at the hands of prison and jail guards: Where did they learn that?
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