New sheriff makes personnel changes

Franklin County Sheriff Chris Quire. (Chanda Veno/State Journal)

Complaints about Detective Jeff Farmer first became public Friday in a widely publicized letter from Franklin County public defenders.

But last week's letter was not the first time Franklin County Sheriff Chris Quire heard complaints about Farmer.

Three members of the Focus on Race Relations: Frankfort (FORR) anti-racism group met with Quire more than four months ago about Farmer’s conduct as it relates to race and the use of force.

The meeting with Quire took place Aug. 31, according to Margaret O’Donnell, an attorney who chairs FORR’s Public Protection and Advocacy Committee. O’Donnell and FORR board members Ed and Kristie Powe asked to speak with the sheriff following a series of meetings the organization held with citizens about local law enforcement.

They noticed a pattern.

“The name we heard over and over was Jeff Farmer,” O’Donnell said. “I heard it from citizens, private lawyers, public defenders, and I heard it from folks who were involved in what they perceived as misconduct — and I think it was misconduct.”

Quire reassigned Farmer on Sunday, two days after the public defenders’ letter that criticized Farmer’s police record as well as his attendance last week at a pro-Trump rally that ended in a siege of the U.S. Capitol. Quire made clear in his response to the letter that he defended Farmer’s First Amendment right to protest and found no proof of Farmer breaking any laws at the rally. 

Instead, Farmer’s reassignment was due to the allegations about his police conduct, not his involvement in the rally, Quire said. 

Without naming Farmer directly, FORR founder Ed Powe expressed support for Farmer’s removal from the sheriff’s office.

“We respect and we salute the tough duty that police officers perform for us on a daily basis,” Powe said. “However, there are individuals that are causing problems and these problems need to be addressed … . I was so glad to see the letter from the public defenders basically repeating everything that we communicated with Sheriff Quire. We don't want to see individuals such as this to continue to be employed as public safety officers in our community.”

O’Donnell said that in the Aug. 31 meeting, Quire told FORR members that he was already aware of some of the incidents they brought up regarding Farmer.

“He listened to all that we've had to say,” O’Donnell said. “We raised our concerns about the racial profiling, the targeting, the harassment, the unreasonable seizures and the drawing of guns. My recollection is that he said he was aware of some of these incidents and he thanked us for sharing our concerns.”

It is unclear what complaints Quire had heard before the meeting and what level of inquiry into Farmer’s conduct took place following the meeting.

When asked about the meeting, Quire said his legal counsel has advised him not to comment on Farmer’s situation. Quire has yet to specify the nature of Farmer's reassignment or if his pay has changed.

Farmer also said that he was advised not to comment.

“I would love to be able to make a statement to defend myself and my integrity but I have been advised by my attorneys not to make any statements,” Farmer wrote in a response to The State Journal.

O’Donnell said that, after the August meeting, she had heard that Farmer was doing a better job of wearing a body camera. She also said that she heard fewer complaints about Farmer’s police conduct until recently.

“Between August and the week of Christmas, I didn’t hear any concerns that specifically mentioned Detective Farmer,” O’Donnell said.

On Monday, the group of public defenders called for an “open, independent and thorough” investigation of Farmer.

Powe was on Quire’s campaign committee in the 2018 election and said that he and Quire have worked together to help diversify the sheriff's staff. He expressed confidence in Quire.

“I think Chris wants to do the right thing,” Powe said. “He just needs to be informed and have some direction as to what the right thing is.”

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