Warren Lanham, a longtime local law enforcement officer, has been dismissed from the Boyle County Sheriff’s Department after a grand jury questioned his police work and requested an investigation.
Sheriff Marty Elliott first suspended and then terminated Lanham in October following a two-month investigation during which Elliott determined Lanham’s allegedly inadequate performance would no longer be tolerated.
Lanham’s failure to complete work on cases, and his improper gathering and disposal of evidence, led to felony charges being dismissed in “a number of cases” because the grand jury wouldn’t indict on the available evidence, Elliott determined.
“In my opinion, the poor judgment, lack of professionalism and dereliction of duty you displayed … constitute misconduct serious enough for discharge and warrant the termination of your employment,” Elliott wrote in Lanham’s official termination letter dated Oct. 26, a copy of which was obtained by The Advocate-Messenger through an Open Records request.
Lanham, whose career with the Danville Police Department and sheriff’s office covered more than 30 years, declined to comment Thursday, referring questions to Louisville attorney Thomas Clay, who could not be reached. Clay’s associate, David Ward, indicated Lanham is weighing a wrongful termination lawsuit.
“We believe Warren’s dismissal was unjustified, and we are reviewing our options as far as any claims he might have regarding his termination,” Ward said Thursday.
According to Lanham’s suspension and termination letters, Elliott began his investigation Aug. 28, after Boyle Circuit Judge Darren Peckler informed Elliott the grand jury requested “an investigation of your (Lanham’s) handling of several cases that had been presented during the grand jury term.” The letters specifically mentioned felony cases against four individuals that were dismissed for “failure to indict,” allegedly due to Lanham’s flawed police work.
Two of the cases — a 2011 charge against Ralph Vanover for allegedly receiving stolen property and a 2012 charge against Brian Moore alleging burglary and other offenses — were dismissed because Lanham failed to follow up the charges with the police work required to get an indictment, Elliott stated in one letter.
“… I found that, despite multiple requests by the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, you never provided the casework necessary to obtain an indictment,” the sheriff wrote.
The other two cases, involving allegations of methamphetamine manufacturing against John Christopher Montgomery and Holly R. Bailey, are discussed in greater detail in Lanham’s suspension, termination letters and related citations and supplemental reports provided to The Advocate in response to the Open Records request.
County Attorney Richard Campbell declined to release the report Elliott submitted last month to the grand jury on his investigation, stating that grand jury proceedings are considered “secret” under state law and not open to public scrutiny.
According to the records obtained by the newspaper, Lanham was the supervising officer on the scene when Montgomery and Bailey were arrested for alleged meth production June 29 after a Junction City resident reported the two were carrying what appeared to be an active mobile meth lab in a five-gallon bucket along Fitzgerald Lane. Other Boyle deputies, state troopers and a constable also responded to the scene.
After Bailey and Montgomery were detained as they walked along Persimmons Knob Road, officers found the bucket and a sealed gallon jar containing a white powder residue and unidentified liquid that had been discarded in the weeds along Fitzgerald Lane, according to the records.
Trooper Donnie Moses photographed the evidence and sent it to a KSP Drug Enforcement Special Investigations detective for identification as a possible meth lab, which was confirmed. Montgomery and Bailey were arrested, according to the records.
As the scene was clearing, Lanham was left in charge of collecting evidence and making sure the meth lab remnants were properly destroyed. Instead of following procedures established by OSHA and KSP and adopted by the sheriff’’s office, Lanham ordered Deputy Taylor Bottoms to place the containers along the roadside and destroy them by blasting them with a shotgun while at least five other officers were present, Elliott said during an interview last week.
“There are guidelines we have followed for years, and that kind of action is not how we operate,” Elliott said in the interview.
Elliott described the meth lab as a “pill soak” or “shake and bake” operation during which psuedoephedrine tablets are submitted to a chemical process to separate the active ingredients needed to make the addictive drug that energizes users and allows them to go days without sleep. Those ingredients are considered toxic and highly explosive, Elliott said.
Official protocol requires a HAZMAT-trained firefighter or officer to come to the scene, collect samples that are sent off for analysis and then properly dispose of the materials, Elliott said. That procedure was not followed by Lanham, who has participated in several meth busts during his career, Elliott said. Destruction by shotgun is not an approved method of disposal, he said.
“My investigation … disclosed that a ‘pill soak,’ a form of active meth lab, was improperly destroyed at your directions, putting law enforcement officers at risk and leaving the Commonwealth without the evidence necessary to obtain a conviction, hence, each of those cases was dismissed as a result of the grand jury’s failure to indict,” Elliott states in the termination letter.
Deputy Bottoms was not disciplined for shooting up the meth lab because he was following orders from a superior, Elliott said. Early findings of the investigation led to Lanham’s demotion from chief deputy on Sept. 27 and his suspension, with pay, on Oct. 15. He was terminated Oct. 17, though his official dismissal letter is dated Oct. 26, according to documents obtained by The Advocate.
“While the decision has been made by me, I did so with regret, recognizing the many years you ably served as a law enforcement officer,” Elliott wrote in the letter.