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Special-needs child brought into Lee sheriff’s race

Reggie Rachals and David Cheshire

Reggie Rachals and David Cheshire

LEESBURG, Ga. — Easton Blanchard may be one of Lee County’s most well-known citizens. The 13-year-old, born with congenital muscular dystrophy and the subject of a number of fundraisers that helped pay for what would be a failed small intestine transplant, has become for many the very symbol of bravery in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

In recent weeks, however, Easton’s name has been in the Lee County spotlight for a different reason. His father, Brian Blanchard, was fired by Lee County Sheriff Reggie Rachals almost two years ago for insubordination when Blanchard told LSO shift supervisor Capt. Jennifer Dunbar he would not report for duty because he was responsible for Easton, who has special needs.

Supporters of former Lee Deputy David Cheshire, who is challenging Rachals for the sheriff’s office, have distributed campaign literature that indicated Rachals had “terminated a jailer because he has a special needs child.” The reference was obviously to Brian Blanchard.

Responding to that charge, Rachals told The Albany Herald in an article that appeared July 8 that the employee in question had been fired “solely on his conduct and his failure to report for duty on time as required of all employees.”

Angered over mention of the incident in the media, Blanchard contacted The Herald and asked for an opportunity to respond to Rachals’ comments.

“As far as the public was concerned, we had let this issue go,” Blanchard said. “There were still legal issues to be straightened out, but we were moving on. Then Sheriff Rachals mentioned this incident in The Herald. And even though he didn’t mention me by name, everybody knew who he was talking about.”

Blanchard said he told Dunbar he could not work on Nov. 13, 2010 because his wife, Heather, would be out of town that day and he was responsible for Easton. He said he’d been assured when he was hired three months earlier that the department “understood” he’d need to make time for Easton on occasion.

But when Blanchard, who at the time was only halfway through his six-month probation period with LSO, did not report for duty the next day, he was discharged from the department “because he refused to report for mandatory overtime on Saturday 11/13/2010 and refusing to obey an order to report for duty on the same day.”

“I couldn’t leave Easton with anyone else,” Blanchard said. “There are only four people who know how to take care of his special needs. My wife had planned to attend a family birthday party, and since I was not on call, we felt it would be a good opportunity for her to get away.

“I couldn’t believe it when they told me (not reporting) was grounds for termination. I’d heard of plenty of other people who’d done the same thing, and nothing was ever done to them. They weren’t even called in and reprimanded.”

Blanchard’s friend Bo Clark, a deputy who recently left the Lee Sheriff’s Office because he said he’d been accused of “sleeping with the enemy” by LSO officials because of his relationship with Blanchard and other former department employees, said he was aware of others who had received no punishment when they did not report for duty.

“It happened to me,” Clark said. “There were times when they called me to come in and I told them I couldn’t and I never heard anything about it. It happened all the time.”

Rachals, meanwhile, said it’s ridiculous to accuse him of being unconcerned for employees with special-needs children. He noted that his brother has cerebral palsy and that other members of the department have special needs themselves or children with special needs. In an email to The Herald on Wednesday, First Christian Church of Albany Pastor Tommy Lowery noted that after he became sheriff, Rachals rehired a former longtime Lee Sheriff’s Office employee, a double amputee, who had been let go by Rachals’ predecessor.

Rachals also disputed Blanchard’s and Clark’s claim that employees had received no punishment for refusal to work.

“I can’t think of a one,” Rachals said, turning to Dunbar. “Are you aware of any other employee refusing to come in to work and nothing being done to him?”

“The only time I’m aware of that happening,” Dunbar replied, “was one time under (former sheriff Harold) Breeden.”

Blanchard accused LSO officials of changing the official report of the incident that led to his termination, pointing out differences in copies of a report filed by Maj. Sandra Pressley-Fordham, who was on duty the night that Blanchard was called in for overtime. One notable change is the inclusion of the word “shopping,” which Blanchard said was an attempt to make it appear that his wife’s trip out of town was frivolous.

“The first report said, ‘... his wife (Heather) had already made plans to go out of town,’” Blanchard said, pointing out the discrepancy on the copies. “The second copy says, ‘... his wife (Heather) had already made plans to go out of town shopping.’ That’s only one word, but it’s a big change.”

Dunbar, who has an autistic child, could not account for the change in the report, but she said what’s more telling was Blanchard’s conduct that was not reported.

“Several people told me that (Blanchard) had played on their pity to get them to work for him, saying he had to take care of his child, then they’d see him out cutting grass for his side business,” she said. “I told them I couldn’t write him up based on a verbal report, that I had to have something in writing, but they said they didn’t want to be responsible for getting him in trouble.”

Blanchard also said he was never given an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) manual when he was hired, as required by law, but Dunbar refuted that claim.

“First of all, we were updating our manual, but all of our employees knew we had printed copies available, plus we had the information on disc,” she said. “And one of the things Sheriff Rachals requires is that we teach our procedures to new hires. That is going on constantly.”

Rachals said the only reason he mentioned the incident with Blanchard (in The Herald story) is because Cheshire’s campaign material accused him of being insensitive to special-needs children.

“That upset me, and I felt like I had to respond so that people would know the truth,” the sheriff said. “I knew all about Easton; we discussed him at our prayer breakfasts and we raised money to help his family. I told Brian when we hired him I had no hang-up about him doing what he had to do for Easton.

“But I think when someone flat-out refuses to report for duty, he endangers the safety of the rest of the personnel. That’s something we can’t accept.”

Asked about his literature that alluded to the Blanchard incident, Cheshire, a friend of the Blanchard family, said many people are misreading his intention.

“I am not attacking Reggie as an individual,” Cheshire said. “My problem with him is the way he runs the sheriff’s office. Whether what he did in this case is legal or not, I can’t say. But as a human, I think it was wrong.”

Comments

ontario1966 1 year, 9 months ago

I am really bothered by the actions of the Lee County Sheriff? The Mayor and our Commision need to look into the improper Contracts, Nepatisom, and the use of county cars being taken home? There is just to much going on? Sounds like corrupt business here! And this is my Tax Dollars, I don't want it wasted !!!

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countryman 1 year, 9 months ago

OK, all of the money that goes to these "Improper Contracts" are on checks signed by the Commissioners, so evidently they have no problem with it. Nepotism is "favoritism granted to relatives regardless of merit". There is no favoritism, the Sheriff has 2 relatives that work for him and they both do the jobs they were hired for and make some of the lowest salaries in the department, so you lose there also. County cars being taken home? Every State, City and County department in this nation has take home cars, so you lose again.

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rosemarie 1 year, 9 months ago

thanks countryman he is just trying in a last ditch effect to win a FEW votes. The people in Lee County have always depended on Sheriff Rachals even when Harold Breeden was Sheriff. When he was Major Rachals that was who the people of this county called not the former Sheriff .........

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bigbob 1 year, 9 months ago

I am sure there is alot more to this than just not reporting for one day. It's obvious others employees also had a problem with Mr B. Sheriff Rachels has done a exelent job of inproving the Dept. All you have to do is look at all the crime in Albany while Lee Cty has a very low crime rate. I say if it isn't broke don't mess with it. I support Reggie because he has done a great job & I also think David is a nice guy.

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kirkman 1 year, 9 months ago

Sounds to me like the good sheriff uses all things to his benefit. Modifies reports...awards jobs with no bids....special favors for relatives....uses position with state inspectors to convince them of no abuse on his horse( after 4 different complaints with the state over the past year) so they allowed him to move the horse with no follow up and closed the case. Everything Cheshire has said is backed up by documentation....Can Rachals do the same?

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VietVet1 1 year, 9 months ago

Birthday party - husband job - birthday party - husband job. No brainer. Not knowing the FULL story I do no I would be focusing on my daughters health & job. Not a birthday party.

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Shinedownfan 1 year, 9 months ago

Good Point!!!! Very good point!

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gadep76 1 year, 9 months ago

Here is some insight: things that were not mentioned from someone that worked in this jail and truly understands the necessary requirements. Unfortunately, this type of job is one that requires all positions to be filled at all times in order to insure the safety and security of the officers and inmates alike. It is obvious that Mr. Blanchard needs employment that is more flexible to the needs of of his family. Law enforcement jobs require indiciduals who must work days, nights, holidays, mandatory overtime, mandatory training, skills requirements, and when disaster strikes "WE ALL MUST WORK", and on call schedules, just to name a few. This job did not work out for Mr. Blanchard. It was not a personal attack on his child, therefore, all parties should move on from this argument. There are many people that can say this type of job is not for them. Some people cannot make the necessary sacrifices that come with this type of career. The Blanchard's have endured more than most parents in raising Easton, their compassion and love for him is astounding. However, this is not a platform that should be blamed on Sheriff Rachals. It is not his fault. It is no one's fault. It simply did not work out and never will.

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ontario1966 1 year, 9 months ago

Countryman, no I did not lose again, the Commision is going off what the sheriff turns in without actually looking at it? Nepatisom is just plain wrong, wether it is the highest paying job to the lowest! As for the government vehicle to his daughter, well that speaks for itself! Yes Lee County is much better than Albany, but if there are hiccups in the system? Than fix them now before it gets out of hand. The one thing I have that you don't? Is I have Integrity and Honor.

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billybob 1 year, 9 months ago

It's not nepotism if the individual is qualified for the position for which he or she is hired and the salary is commensurate with the specific position and the applicant's skills. Furthermore, missing work so your wife can attend a birthday party shows a lack of good judgement. I'm quite certain many of us have missed various activities and events because it conflicted with either our job or our spouse's job. I know I have on more than one occassion. It's fine if this family felt the birthday party was more important; that's their choice. They should just understand that choices have both good and bad consequences. I wish them well going forward.

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rock 1 year, 9 months ago

I only know each of these candidates by what is written about them and what I personnaly have noticed. The sheriff is professional in appearance and it seems in dealing with employees. Chesire seems to want to attck character. From what i saw the other day at the corner of Philema and N. Jefferson, I would vote for Sheriff Rachels simply based on his professional appearance at the event. Chesire was in old shorts and a ratty t short, with his campaign friends in the same dress with a dirty ball cap on his head. Impressions! Rachels is professional and Chesire just wants a job. Will this be how they represent the LSO? Professional or Sloppy? I live in lee county and know several of the deputies and i see the professionalism that is present now, so I will vote on what these tell me about the LSO and how profressional they are. Sloppy breds sloppy.

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billybob 1 year, 9 months ago

I saw that as well with the two camps on oppostie sides of Philema. And you're right, it was a striking contrast. I'm not quite certain why this race is generating so much "heat" so to speak.

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Shinedownfan 1 year, 9 months ago

Well, I hope people see thru all this and Rachals wins a big majority of the vote. I see lots of Chesire signs, but I hope the houses I dont see a sign at, is a house full of Rachals voters, like mine.

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rosemarie 1 year, 9 months ago

All the negative that Cheshire is sligging come from who talked him into running. Big mistake on Cheshire part listening to Harold Breeden.......

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rosemarie 1 year, 9 months ago

The law abiding citizens that can vote will see right through Cheshire mudsligging and vote for Sheriff Reggie Rachals.....

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kirkman 1 year, 9 months ago

Exactly what is a "ratty t short"...and sloppy breds sloppy.....let's talk about professionalism! Nepotism! Special favors! Inappropriate contracts! Four Animal abuse Investigations! These are the IMPRESSIONS you need to look at and not base your opinion on what someone is wearing at the moment.

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ontario1966 1 year, 9 months ago

I will also agree, I did see the two on the corner on opposite sides? I kinda thought it was funny? I am not trying to attack Rachel at all, I am just saying there are a few things that are very questionable? Yes his appearance is much different than his opponent? Just that one contract? The city car? And the hiring his own family members, proved enough to me, this has got to go? Yes lee county is awsome! But it is not all his doing at all? My vote will not go to him.

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leetaxpayer 1 year, 9 months ago

David Cheshire cant even control his wolves and the FACT that he is using a special need child to try and win an election, should speak for itself. Cheshire speaks of nepotism,how is he going to hire the ones he has promised a job that are all related to each other. Just Saying!!!!! Come on Lee County, Sheriff Rachals has done a great job as Sheriff. He has a heart that is as big as Lee County and would never do anything to harm anyone unless they brought it on them self. I guess it is a good thing that he got elected Sheriff when he did. If I were elected I would have fired the SAME ones and would have fired Cheshire as well. Cheshire is a snake in the grass just waiting to strike. Just Saying!!!!

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Cartman 1 year, 9 months ago

My BS meter pegs over when negative campaign stories hit the press only a few days before election day. These ambush tactics, by design, leave little time for a meaningful response. These allegations are not based upon a recent event. They happened almost two years ago. If there was any merit to them, why were they not pursued earlier? Why are they not being pursued now? This is obviously a desparate campaign tactic. I am disappointed to see this come out of David's campaign. I expected more of him than low blows like this.

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leetaxpayer 1 year, 9 months ago

David Cheshire is using a special needs child for his campaign is a low blow. He can't control his so called supporters, then how can he run a sheriff's office. David is a snake in the grass that is waiting to strike. And as far as the Blanchard's family, I can't beleive they would alone this to happen using their child in the mess. David tell us what you can do to make the Lee County Sheriff's Department better. All we have heard from you and your wolves are the things that Sheriff Rachels as done are has not done. From what I can see Sheriff Rachels has done a great job since he has been in office. The Fact sheet that I received in the mail was just another low blow that you have been doing since you started the crap. The only difference that I would have done if I was the one that took office was fired you along with the other one that were fired. So I take it that you are not going to have anyone fired if you were to win. JUST SAYING!!!!!

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rosemarie 1 year, 9 months ago

Sheriff Rachals has done a great job and the lies and slanter that Cheshire and his supporters have said is just the kind of mudsligging that goes on when one (Cheshire) gets for listening to the wrong person (Breeden). All i can say is Cheshire had a great job while employed under Sheriff Rachals and look what he's got now a lawn care service...

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Hoodie 1 year, 9 months ago

He has said he would let anyone go that can't fulfill the duties of a sworn officer in LSO their are plenty working there now that fit that requirement. Every new sheriff let''s employees go it happens every year. LSO had such a turnaround now with employees it wouldn't be a big factor in the new year!

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ThatGuy1 1 year, 9 months ago

I know both Sheriff Rachals and David Cheshire personally. I have known both of them previous to this campaign. When I look at Sheriff Rachals, I see a very distinguished, honorable man. This man pours his heart and soul into the Lee County SO. The list of his accomplishments in his first term are outstanding. Certainly things that former Lee County Sheriff Breeden couldn't/wouldn't have done. On the other hand, Cheshire is simply representing the "Breeden Clan". The people who are (4 years later) still pouting that they were ousted like they were. Sheriff Rachals has done a significant job, and the things that Cheshire tries to point out are exaggerated to the extreme. As someone already said, Cheshire wants a job. He criticizes Rachals for "weeding" out the people he did after he took office, yet he plans to do the same himself, and hire his bestfriend, Chris Anderson, as Chief Deputy. I will clarify now and say that I also know Chris personally as well. I hold nothing against either party in this case, but when it comes down to it, it is all a factor of revenge and job hunting for Cheshire. I truly do not believe he is capable of handling the duties required as a person in the position of Sheriff. Also, the slander or "mudslinging" is all in defense. It's nearing election day and they haven't done enough to smudge the Sheriff's name. I voted today and Sheriff Rachals got my vote. I hope he does yours as well.

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