Over the years, the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office has discovered a few bad apples within the department.
Whether it’s an off-duty deputy starting a fight in a local bar or an investigator stealing Oxycodone pills from the narcotics division of the sheriff’s office, Sheriff Richard Roundtree has generally acted very quickly in terminating those unlawful individuals from his department.
But the recent arrest and later termination of Narcotics Lt. Richard Elim was a shocker for many in this community.
Anyone who’s been around Augusta and the local government for the past several decades knows Elim.
He had served for more than 30 years with the sheriff’s office and frequently represented the sheriff’s office during meetings with the Augusta Commission when local bars or clubs were facing the potential loss of their alcohol or business licenses due to illegal activities within the establishments.
So, for Elim to be charged last month with multiple crimes relating to gaming machines was disheartening to say the least.
According to the sheriff’s office, lottery officials contacted the department after they discovered discrepancies in Elim’s paperwork that he submitted seeking reimbursement for inspecting some local electronic gaming machines.
Elim, 53, allegedly claimed he inspected some lottery machines at a particular location, but lottery officials discovered there were no longer any such machines in that specific building.
According to the arrest warrant regarding Elim, these false inspections occurred between July 14 and Sept. 16 at the VFW Post 649 in Augusta.
In the end, Elim was charged with one felony count of violation of oath by public officer, one felony count of false statements and one felony count of theft by deception.
After Elim was taken into custody and booked into the Charles B. Webster Detention Center, the sheriff’s office released his mugshot.
It’s difficult to see someone who had worked so long with the sheriff’s office fall so hard.
Those who have been involved in local law enforcement for some time couldn’t help but recall a similar scandal that hit the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office in 2002 and shook that department to its core.
Back then, two former Richmond County vice officers, Roderick Berry and Stoney Turnage, pleaded guilty and were sentenced to prison for extorting money from a strip club owner and accepting bribes.
Basically, the two veteran officers pleaded guilty to conspiracy to interfere with interstate commerce by extortion.
Both officers ruined their careers and went to prison for taking bribes in the form of cash and a few thousand dollars worth of merchandise.
FBI agents recorded meetings between a convicted felon and the two officers in 2001 when the men received two Masters badges, Masters shirts, Cuban cigars and $2,000 cash in exchange for allowing an Augusta nightclub to keep its entertainment license.
During sentencing, Berry and Turnage told a federal judge that they had lost the most important thing in their lives: their law enforcement careers.
Together, Berry and Turnage had a combined 39 years on the force, but that all vanished because of foolish greed.
“After hearing from the character witnesses and my family, I only have one question, ‘How could I be so stupid?’” Turnage reportedly told U.S. District Court Chief Judge Dudley Bowen Jr. in 2002.
In the end, Bowen gave Berry six months in prison for his cooperation in the case, followed by three years of supervised release, 150 hours of community service and a $2,500 fine.
Turnage was sentenced to 18 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, 100 hours of community service and a $7,500 fine.
That scandal could have really hurt the public’s view of the sheriff’s office, but it didn’t.
At the time, Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength openly addressed the charges and managed to keep the controversy from tearing his department apart.
Roundtree also has done well this year.
Since the charges against Elim have become public, Roundtree also has dealt with the issue head on.
He quickly fired Elim from the sheriff’s office after an internal investigation, and he was upfront with the media and the public about the charges against the veteran officer.
But, unfortunately, Roundtree’s problems within the department didn’t stop there.
Just a few days after the scandal broker regarding Elim, Richmond County Deputy James Bryan Ouzts was also arrested and fired after he was accused of “double dipping” on the job.
Basically, Ouzts was working a special duty assignment at the Private Eye Nightclub in Augusta while he was supposed to be on his regular, on-duty assignment.
An internal criminal investigation discovered that twice in October, Ouzts was paid $500 for working security at the nightclub while on regular duty. Therefore, while accepting money from the nightclub, he also was compensated by Augusta-Richmond County through his regular paycheck.
As a result, Ouzts was charged with one felony count of violation of oath by public officer and one misdemeanor count of theft by deception, the Augusta Chronicle recently reported.
Needless to say, it’s been a rough couple of weeks for the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.
Let’s just hope that future deputies learn from these mistakes and don’t get tempted to take the money and run.
We all know that salaries for local law enforcement officers, particularly those in Richmond County, are not what they should be.
But stealing money or taking bribes isn’t the answer. That only leads to prison.