Harris under investigation

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 18, 2001

Complaint filed against Butler County Sheriff

A Butler County resident says that he has filed a complaint with the Alabama State Ethics Commission against Butler County Sheriff Diane Harris.

Noah H. Flowers Jr., a former deputy sheriff and now a semi-retired cattle farmer and over-the-road truck driver, said he is concerned about inappropriate spending and behavior on the part of the highest elected official in Butler County.

&uot;I have absolutely nothing personal to gain from this complaint, I am just concerned for the limited funds of the taxpayers in this county being spent inappropriately,&uot; said Flowers. &uot;I have personal knowledge of all the items I listed in my complaint, and have submitted evidence to the Ethics Commission to back them up — they occurred during the period of the summer 2000 through winter 2001.&uot;

An Alabama State Ethics Commission representative declined to confirm the complaint when contacted Monday.

&uot;We cannot either confirm or deny whether Sheriff Harris is being investigated by the ethics commission,&uot; said David Green, investigator for the commission. &uot;If complaints are filed, we are generally prevented by the ‘Grand Jury Secrecy Act’ from revealing any information.

&uot;Once a complaint is filed, we investigate the complaint. It then gets presented to the full ethics commission during one of their regularly scheduled public meetings, after which time our director is allowed to shed some light on it.&uot;

When contacted at her home Monday night, Sheriff Harris declined to elaborate on the possible complaint.

&uot;I have nothing to discuss on it right now,&uot; said Harris.

Flowers said he has met with Ethics Commission investigators on several occasions.

&uot;When I first spoke with the investigators, I was given a questionnaire asking for further information on specifics of the complaints I listed,&uot; Flowers said. &uot;After I brought them the videotape taken in Florida, they also had follow-up questions.&uot;

Flowers said he had received word that Harris was using her county-owned Dodge Durango for personal ‘retreats and vacations,’ and so he set out to see if it was true.

&uot;It was common knowledge that she (Harris) was on a personal trip, so I, along with my friends, took a trip to Florida,&uot; Flowers said. &uot;When we got to Navarre Beach, we found Harris’ county-owned Durango parked at a condominium, where she was staying with her friends — we videotaped it being there — I have since delivered that tape to the Ethics Commission.&uot;

Flowers said he has knowledge of many personal trips taken within Alabama but outside Butler County in the county-owned vehicle.

&uot;For a long time, she would go to Montgomery nearly every Thursday for things of a personal nature,&uot; he said. &uot;By that I mean she would buy things for her personal use or consumption, but yet she used the county’s vehicle for these trips. She also took trips to Montgomery for the purpose of transporting her roommate, Sheila Sellers, to doctor’s office appointments, and to the Veterans Hospital, and these were not of an emergency nature.&uot;

Flowers said Harris has also used her office for personal gain.

&uot;It is also common knowledge that Harris has been selling fish aquarium planters and ‘flax-seed pads’ for relief of pain, all at the county office — they had tags on them saying they were being sold to benefit a Viet Nam-era disabled veteran, and listed the Sheriff’s personal home phone number on them,&uot; Flowers said. &uot;The veteran mentioned on the tag is Harris’ roommate, Sheila Sellers.&uot;

Flowers said the sale of these items disturbed him.

&uot;I have a lot of friends that are disabled veterans,&uot; Flowers said. &uot;I could see if the sale of these items benefited all veterans, but they don’t. The funds from the sale of these items goes right back into the sheriff’s household.&uot;

&uot;Another item of complaint is that the sheriff has purchased items for her personal use at home, and paid for them with public funds,&uot; Flowers said. &uot;She just got a $15,000 pay hike; why does she have to spend taxpayer dollars for her personal benefit?&uot;

Flowers said there was one particular area that bothered him most of all.

&uot;What infuriated me the most was that the Butler County Sheriff used her office for personal gain by receiving a first degree black belt in KarateDo martial arts training from a man named Hanshi Dave Shelton, in exchange for a Butler County Sheriff’s Deputy badge and identification card,&uot; Flowers said. &uot;This has been confirmed by two witnesses that have personal knowledge of the exchange.

&uot;She even made a public announcement of her accomplishment in The Greenville Advocate.&uot;

&uot;Many folks have put their complete faith in Sheriff Harris, and she has misled them all. I think all the folks that work for her do an outstanding job, and they represent the citizens of this county well, but they cannot help what she has done,&uot; he said.

When called Tuesday, John Andrews, district attorney for the Second Judicial District, said he had not yet heard of the investigation, and preferred not to comment.