Sheriff warns of libel litigation following online drunk driving claims

Darrell Todd Maurina

Sheriff warns of libel litigation following online drunk driving claims

Sheriff Ron Long
PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (Oct. 26, 2015) — Responding to online attacks which surfaced Saturday saying local media were failing to report the arrest of the sheriff for drunk driving, Sheriff Ron Long came to the Pulaski County Commission, presented a copy of his criminal history report to the county commissioners, and said there’s no truth to the claims. He also warned that he may take legal action against those circulating the claims.

“I just went next door and had my criminal history ran, which shows any arrest I would have had and any convictions that I would have had,” Long said.

Long is not a member of the Vent it Out Facebook group, but some members of local law enforcement agencies are members and alerted Long to the thread in advance of the county commission meeting. Presiding Commissioner Gene Newkirk also denied the claims on the Vent it Out group and asked that the thread be removed.

While angry, Long said he wasn’t surprised, noting that his four-year term ends next year and he will have to run for re-election if he wants to remain in office. He said he may consider litigation against the people making false claims about him having been arrested, noting that it’s possible to obtain a court subpoena to determine the identity of a person using a false name on a Facebook account.

“I do consider this to be libel and slanderous and if it continues legal action may be taken against the person putting it out,” Long said. “I’m done with dealing with this because I believe it is very political and politically motivated.”

This isn’t the first time Long has been accused of drunk driving. During the 2012 sheriff campaign, copies of court documents from Texas began to circulate but the people who originally located the documents were never publicly identified. Those documents showed a Ron Long from Texas — the state where Long spent most of his law enforcement career in and near Austin before returning to his home in Pulaski County — with a drunk driving conviction and subsequent restoration of his driver’s license for limited job-related purposes. Late in the campaign, after Long had won the Republican Party nomination in a three-way August primary but before he won the November general election against former Pulaski County Chief Deputy William Anderson, law enforcement personnel confirmed that the court documents involved a Texas trucker by the same name and had nothing to do with Ron Long, the sheriff candidate.

Long’s race four years ago after the retirement of Sheriff J.B. King was a hard-fought campaign in the Republican primary against then-Richland Assistant Police Chief Nick Pappas and reserve deputy Johnny Burgess. The general election campaign was quieter — Democrats four years ago lost by landslide margins in most Pulaski County races — but the Democratic primary had also been a struggle between Anderson, the eventual Democratic nominee, and former Sheriff J.T. Roberts. Roberts, a former state trooper who later served several terms as sheriff, was defeated by King in 2004, won the Democratic nomination in 2008 against Anderson who subsequently endorsed King and became King’s chief deputy, and then lost the 2012 Democratic nomination to Anderson.

Tracking down old court records from other states can be difficult and old items can come back to bite political candidates. Just days before the November 2000 presidential election, previously unknown paper records from George W. Bush’s youth showed a drunk driving conviction and upended his campaign against Al Gore. However, aggressive efforts in recent years to automate local court records and make them available to law enforcement has resulted in the creation of a federal reporting system which indicates not only convictions but also arrests dating back many years and including all states.

The document presented by Long to the commissioners indicates no record of any arrest or conviction by any local, state or federal entity on national crime records reported to the federal NCIC criminal reporting system.

In other business, Long presented a request to the commissioners for approval to apply for a MOSWIN communications grant for sheriff’s department radios. Long’s request for the grant, which will allow deputies to communicate on frequencies which are not widely monitored by the general public, was approved without dissent. The ability to communicate on MOSWIN can be critical in major emergencies when local police may need to interact with law enforcement agencies from outside the area which don’t use the local frequencies.

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