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Questions arise about sheriff candidate Kavern Lewis' law enforcement background

  • KAVERN LEWIS

  • Kavern Lewis speaks during a forum for candidates running for Hampshire County sheriff Thursday at South Hadley High School. The forum was sponsored by Know Your Town. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS



@mjmajchrowicz
Friday, September 02, 2016

NORTHAMPTON — Throughout his campaign, Democratic Hampshire County sheriff candidate Kavern Lewis has boasted of his “10 years combined experience” in law enforcement and private security jobs.

On his campaign website and in public appearances and interviews with the Gazette and Bulletin, Lewis said his government experience includes stints as a law enforcement officer in Washington, D.C., and South Carolina; as a corrections officer in Vermont and New Hampshire; and as an “honorary” sheriff’s deputy at various departments — including the one he wants to lead in Hampshire County.

There’s just one problem: Most of the agencies where he says he worked say they have no record of Lewis being employed there, or that his tenure was brief. And his role as an “honorary” deputy involved volunteer community relations rather than the enforcement of laws.

During an Aug. 16 forum at the First Churches of Northampton, Lewis was the first of the three Democratic sheriff candidates to introduce himself to the packed meeting room. He accented his law enforcement background.

“I was a police officer in D.C. and in Charleston, South Carolina,” Lewis, 29, of Amherst, told the crowd.

Not so, say officials at the two agencies where Lewis claims to have worked — the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, and the Charleston Sheriff’s Office in South Carolina. Contacted by the Gazette, the agencies said they have no record of Lewis working there.

Lewis said he was a correctional officer in Vermont from June 2013 to June 2015, but officials at that state’s Department of Corrections say he worked there only about five months. He also worked as a corrections officer in Cheshire County, New Hampshire, but a senior official there said his tenure was “very brief.”

And while Lewis lists “honorary deputy” posts on his resumé as law enforcement experience, officials at the Hampden, Worcester and Hampshire county sheriff’s departments say those are titles people acquire by paying dues and agreeing to volunteer in community outreach activities.

The posts do not include law enforcement credentials or authority.

In Hampshire County, Lewis’ honorary role came to an early end in 2013 for reasons officials declined to specify, according to Maureen Callahan, chairwoman of the Hampshire County Deputy Sheriff’s Association.

When informed of the Gazette’s findings, Lewis, who works as a substitute teacher for Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools, said he stood by his previous statements as well as the employment history detailed on his resumé.

“I know in my heart what I did and what my work history is,” said Lewis, whose campaign motto is “Stand for something or fall for anything.”

“Believe whatever you want to believe,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do about it.”

The Gazette also checked the resumés of Lewis’ two opponents in the Sept. 8 Democratic primary — Patrick J. Cahillane and Melissa Perry — as well as Republican candidate David Isakson. That review found no inaccuracies or other questions.

Lewis said in an interview that it was his admiration for his stepfather, a retired sheriff’s deputy, that inspired him to seek a career in law enforcement after his distrust for the field as a child growing up in Baltimore.

“I am not able to say that I benefited from the justice system as a child,” Lewis wrote on his campaign page. “In fact, it was quite the opposite.”

But then, he wrote, his stepfather “demonstrated to me that while coverage of law enforcement tends to be regarding the apprehending of bad guys who have done bad things, the good guys doing good is a whole other dimension often under-appreciated.”

Police positions

In his public statements and on his campaign website, Lewis says he worked as a police officer in Washington. The website does not list employment dates. But in an interview with the Gazette, Lewis said he worked for the Metropolitan Police Department from January to July 2013 (a tenure that would overlap with the time he said he worked as a Vermont correctional officer).

When asked about his training for the Washington job, Lewis clarified that he served as a “special police officer,” or “SPO.”

“I did that, and that was so much fun, and it was great,” Lewis said.

But the police department’s personnel files do not support that account, spokeswoman Rachel Schaerr said.

“We don’t have a record of someone by the name of Kavern Lewis being employed by the Metropolitan Police Department or a record of our department certifying him to be a Special Police Officer,” Schaerr said in an email.

According to the Metropolitan Police Department, “special police officers” are essentially licensed security guards who are hired to patrol designated areas or assist law enforcement.

Lewis’ resumé shows him working as a “special sheriff’s deputy” for the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office in South Carolina at an unspecified date. In an interview with the Gazette, Lewis said he performed that role for a six-month period in 2010.

But Maj. Eric Watson, spokesman for the Charleston Sheriff’s Office, said there are no records to support that Lewis was associated in any way with the department. He said the department does not have “special sheriff’s deputies.”

Corrections officer

Lewis told the Gazette he was employed as a correctional officer for the Vermont Department of Corrections from June 2013 to June 2015. Tom Cheney, deputy commissioner for the Vermont Department of Human Resources, confirmed in an email that Lewis was, indeed, hired as a corrections officer working at Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield in May 2013.

However, the job ended about five months later, in October 2013, Cheney said. The department would not say why Lewis left, citing personnel confidentiality. Lewis said he left of his own volition.

“I was not fired,” he said in an interview. “I left.”

Told that the department said his job ended in five months, Lewis maintained he worked there for two years.

“That’s news to me, because I know when I worked there,” he said.

Additionally, Lewis said he worked as a correctional officer for New Hampshire’s Cheshire County Department of Corrections from June 2015 through January 2016.

Cheshire Department of Corrections Superintendent Richard Van Wickler said Lewis was employed there but that his tenure ended after a “very brief period of time.” He would not provide any more details about Lewis’ dates of employment, duties or the reason for his departure.

Lewis said he left of his own choosing, when he decided to run for sheriff.

“There’s been rumors that I was let go,” Lewis said, adding that these rumors were being spread by political opponents.

He added any such rumors were “absolutely” not true.

Honorary, special posts

Honorary or special deputies are generally people who volunteer at sheriff’s departments to help with fundraising and organizing community events, officials say. The designation is not a law enforcement post and does not confer policing powers.

On the campaign trail, Lewis said he previously served as an honorary sheriff’s deputy for the department he aspires to run. That’s accurate, said Callahan, who chairs the Hampshire County Deputy Sheriff’s Association. The association is a nonprofit “voluntary organization of public-spirited persons,” according to the mission statement, that works as a fundraising arm for the department.

Callahan said members pay annual dues of $30 to be honorary deputies, and that the status lasts for one year.

“Members of this organization must be committed to upholding the high principles and tradition of the criminal justice community,” the mission statement reads.

Lewis’ honorary role (which began in January 2013) came to an early end in May 2013 for reasons neither Lewis, the association nor the sheriff’s office would specify.

Callahan said the association and Lewis agreed that he would not serve the full year. Lewis acknowledged he did not serve the full year, but said he did not recall the reason for his early exit.

Lewis’ campaign site also lists him as a current honorary deputy for the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, a role he said he has fulfilled since 2012. Members of the Hampden County Honorary Deputies Association pay $40 annual dues.

Stephen O’Neil, a spokesman for the Hampden department, also said it is not clear how active Lewis is in the organization because it does not keep a record of who does what and how often. The position does not entail any law enforcement responsibilities, O’Neil said.

Lewis was actually appointed in March 2013, according to a membership certificate he showed the Gazette. Lewis said the incorrect date was a typo on his website and that he would correct the mistake.

On his campaign website, Lewis also lists previous service as a Worcester Sheriff’s Office honorary sheriff’s deputy.

The honorary deputies belong to the Reserve Deputy Sheriff’s Association, Superintendent David Tuttle said. He said the nonprofit group is responsible for community engagement, such as organizing events like coat drives and a senior picnic.

Lewis did not specify the duration of his service. Tuttle said Lewis is not on the master list that contains names of all members, which indicates that Lewis has not been associated with the group for at least “two or three” years.

After checking with others in the department, Tuttle said: “Nobody remembers him in the years we’ve been doing this.”

“But,” he added, “we do have members that join … that have busy lives.”

Michael Majchrowicz can be reached at mmajchrowicz@gazettenet.com or 413-585-5234.