A veteran detective is speaking out about staffing shortages and corrupt leadership at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office.
Deputy Cody Christeson came forward after reading an 1819 News article in which two other deputies complained about staff and morale issues. Christeson said he agreed with those deputies and believed many of the problems with the sheriff's office are rooted in racial tension.
"It's hard to do a job wherein you're risking your life, with the belief that, and there are incidences that kind of demonstrated that, if you have white skin, you may have a really big problem," Christeson said.
Christeson has been employed with the sheriff's office since 2012. In his 10 years, he said he has seen a lot of changes he believes have negatively impacted the department. Christeson said he believes punishments are not distributed fairly by Internal Affairs. He also said the overall morale and relationships between deputies had been impacted by the actions of those in charge of advancements and what he thinks are unfair promotions based on race and not experience. He gave specific examples, but the sheriff's office has not responded to media requests to confirm the information.
"There are lots of whistleblowers out there trying to get the word out about what's going on in our department," Christeson added. "They have sent things out to the District Attorney's Office, the state's attorney and also media outlets, and they were all advised that their bosses didn't want to run the story, nobody wanted to do anything about it due to, I guess, fear of political backlash."
The office of Attorney General Steve Marshall has not responded to questions concerning an investigation into the sheriff's office or Sheriff Mark Pettway, But Christeson said he wants to speak out despite the fear of retaliation.
"You're not supposed to speak disparagingly or negatively in any way about the department," he said. "And if you told people we're dangerously short, that doesn't cast the sheriff's office in a positive light."
"I try to be a moral person with integrity. I have done my best to be that kind of individual within my department and outside of my department the entirety of my life," Christeson continued. "I see a lot of my friends and people I know being treated differently, and it's often because of the color of their skin. I have seen deputies with many years experience leave because of the way they are being treated."
Christeson and other deputies have pointed out ethical concerns within the department's leadership. He referenced a two-year-old video online of Pettway speaking to a group of people about how he got his daughters out of a traffic ticket.
"I am a victim myself," Pettway said in the video. "I have two daughters that are here. Recently, now you would think that because I'm sheriff that I would be immune to somebody giving me and my family a ticket. That is not the case. Recently, my daughters were driving their vehicle, which is in my name and has a FOP tag, a police officer tag. Police officers pulled them over and wrote them a ticket."
Pettway then said he had to call the police personally for them to take "the ticket back."
Christeson said it should be insulting to everyone who hears what the sheriff said in the video.
"He's appealing to people with regards to their race, and a lot of those people are there for a rally where they're upset about some of the cases they've seen across the country where an African-American individual is killed at the hands of police," said Christeson. "So, it's sort of insulting, too, for him to think and comment that a speeding ticket is even in the same realm. It's a speeding ticket, not a homicide."
The sheriff's office has not responded to a media inquiry concerning the video.
When it comes to being short-staffed, Christeson said he feels the shortages are extreme and dangerous.
"We don't have the backup and the support of our peers that we used to have, which creates a dangerous situation for us," he said. "Then, when you add in the element of punitive measures that are being distributed differently based on the color of your skin, I feel that there are a lot of white officers in the department who, while being understaffed and expected to do the jobs of multiple people, are also afraid of unfair ramifications."
As a property crimes detective in Center Point, Christeson said his job is a lot more challenging than it used to be because so many people have left the department. He said there used to be a financial crimes division, but now he is forced to investigate white-collar crimes as well.
"It's a different beast," he explained. "A shift that used to have nine people now has three or four, and it won't be uncommon for most of those to be pulled for special details. It doesn't really matter how short the shift is, when the sheriff wants deputies there for an event that could get him some political points, that's where the troops are going."
But he vows to "stick it out" for the people of Jefferson County.
"I've been hanging in there because experience is leaving the department," said Christeson. "We're getting a whole new group of young people who don't have experience in the field. Somebody has to impart that knowledge."
The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office has not responded to several media inquiries regarding claims about leadership practices and the department's Internal Affairs division. The sheriff's office also did not respond to a request to interview Pettway.
To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email [email protected].
Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.