Interim sheriff chosen in Carter County

Friday, April 8, 2011

VAN BUREN, Mo. -- The Carter County Commission appointed an interim sheriff Tuesday morning to serve until a special election can be held in July.

The commission's unanimous choice was Richard J. Stephens Jr., the Van Buren police officer recently appointed to serve as the chief deputy for the sheriff's department.

Stephens had been appointed to the position by Coroner Dennis McSpadden, who has been acting sheriff since Sheriff Tommy Adams' arrest Saturday by the Missouri State Highway Patrol on a drug distribution charge.

The first order of business Tuesday morning was the unanimous acceptance of a letter of resignation from Adams. The resignation was effective as of April 2.

After accepting the resignation, Presiding County Commissioner John Bailiff, Eastern District Commissioner Eddie Ballard, Western District Commissioner Lynn Murdick and County Clerk Becky Simpson Gibbs initially met with McSpadden in closed session.

Stephens subsequently was called in at about 9:15 a.m. and met with commissioners for a little more than an hour.

At about 10:35, in open session, Bailiff made the motion to appoint Stephens the "interim sheriff of Carter County until which time a sheriff is duly elected."

Ballard seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.

"That relieves me as sheriff and congratulations," McSpadden said.

Simpson then administered the oath of office to Stephens.

"You are the sheriff until one is elected," Simpson said.

A special election, Simpson said, has to be held within 90 days of the acceptance of Adams' resignation.

Simpson said Steffanie Kearbey, who had served as chief deputy in Adams' administration, is no longer employed with the county. Kearbey also was arrested by the Highway Patrol and faces burglary and receiving stolen property charges.

"The deputies serve at the pleasure of the sheriff," Simpson said. "[Stephens] has to recommission those that he wants to serve. … Right now, none of them are deputies until Rick gets them sworn in again."

Bailiff hoped the deputies would be recommissioned on Tuesday.

"The Circuit Court is in session; the judge will have to certify them," McSpadden explained.

Stephens said his first priority Tuesday morning was getting the deputies recommissioned.

"I think the main thing that is facing us is regaining the people's trust to where the citizens feel they're even able to contact law enforcement and get good, proactive police services," Stephens said.

Since Adams' arrest, the county has been "working in collaboration with the Highway Patrol and Van Buren Police Department, and they've been helping us greatly, as well as the sheriffs from Shannon County, Butler County and Reynolds County," Stephens said.

The sheriffs, he said, have been "giving a great deal of assistance and their support, so we can kind of turn this around and start leading the department in an honest way and with integrity."

Another consideration for Stephens is the county jail, which was closed over the weekend and prisoners moved to other facilities.

"As soon as we possibly can, when we get everything personnel-wise taken care of, we're going to get them back in here," Stephens said. "We don't want to put an extra burden on the other counties because we know the other sheriffs are dealing with a lot of things on their own."

Stephens said there are no plans to appoint a chief deputy for the department.

"Right now, we want to make sure there is a sense of leadership brought into that department," Stephens said. "At this point, I'll probably be holding off on appointing a chief deputy formally.

"My main concern is to make sure that the things are covered and that it is done honestly and professionally," Stephens said.

Having grown up in Colorado, Stephens said, he began his law enforcement career there in 1995 as federal security officer at the Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center.

In 1996, he said, he became post certified in the State of Colorado and was hired as detentions deputy at the Gilpin County, Colo., Sheriff's Department.

Stephens said he filled such positions as detention corporal, SWAT team member and commander, patrolman, departmental recruiter and trainer while with Gilpin County.

In 2004, Stephens said, he moved to Missouri to be with family and worked with the Howell County Domestic Violence Enhanced Response Team, which is a specialized unit that only investigated domestic violence cases.

Stephens also was elected and served two terms as mayor of Winona, Mo., before joining the Van Buren Police Department four years ago.

Pertinent address:

Van Buren, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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