Barnhart Asks OPI to Review Gun Gift to Sheriff

  • Board members of Sheriff’s Foundation paid for gift to Baxter.
  • Public officers are not allowed to receive gifts of more than a nominal value.
  • Clear message must be sent that this was wrong.

Monroe County Legislator Rachel Barnhart has asked the Office of Public Integrity to review the gift of a rifle to Sheriff Todd Baxter.

Allstar Tactical posted a picture on Facebook of Sheriff Baxter posing with the rifle and disclosed in the comments that board members of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Foundation bought the rifle as a gift.

On Wednesday afternoon, I emailed Sheriff Baxter questions about the incident. A few hours later, he posted on Facebook about the gift. Sheriff Baxter confirmed this was a gift from several board members. He also wrote the following:

Throughout the course of events surrounding this matter, I asked for and received a legal opinion from counsel regarding legal or ethical ramifications of securing this auction item as well as the legality of privately possessing this rifle. There being no issues, I took delivery of the auction item.

I have been monitoring this post. In an attempt to be transparent and in order to eliminate any confusion related to the delivery of the gun, I made a donation for the gavel price to the Foundation. As was my original intention, I paid for the gun and the Foundation is able to provide much needed training and equipment for our Deputies.

This post raises a number of questions:

  • Why did he seek legal counsel? Who was the attorney providing counsel? Can we see the opinion?
  • When did Sheriff Baxter determine it was inappropriate to take the gun?
  • Did the board members get their money back? Does making a donation to the Foundation count as paying for the gun?

Under the Monroe County Charter, public officers cannot receive gifts of more than a nominal value from individuals or entities that have a “direct or indirect interest in any contract or the provision of goods or services to the County of Monroe or any agency thereof.” Some board members fit this category, as does the Foundation itself. In addition, the vendor, Allstar Tactical has done work for law enforcement and says on Facebook that it counts officers as customers.

The New York State Sheriff’s Code of Ethics states, “I shall ensure that during my tenure as sheriff, I shall not use the Office of Sheriff for private gain.” Sheriff Baxter received the gun as a result of his position.

The Sheriff’s involvement in the Foundation also raises questions. Elected officials have to be careful in raising money for nonprofits that benefit their agencies. A lot can go wrong. People want access to the Sheriff or the county could easily use the Foundation as a vehicle. Elected officials could use their power to solicit donations. Barnhart will be reviewing the activities of the Foundation – as well as the Monroe County Jail’s off-books Telephone Trust Fund – in the new year.

“I am glad Sheriff Baxter appears to have recognized this was wrong,” Barnhart said. “But I’m not convinced the issue is fixed. A clear message needs to be sent that elected officials cannot accept expensive gifts from their political friends.”