Civil deputies have no law enforcement power, but they can carry the same badge as a full-time deputy.
By IAN HILL
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Want to know if the person who flashed a badge and gave you a speeding ticket last week is really a full-time Mahoning County deputy sheriff? Now you can find out at the county clerk of courts office.
Sheriff Randall Wellington filed 247 civil deputy commissions at the clerk's office last week. Although a civil deputy has no law enforcement power, he can carry the same badge as a full-time deputy.
State law requires the sheriff to record the names of deputies with the clerk of a county's common pleas courts. Until last week, however, the clerk's office did not have the names of civil deputies on record.
Names submitted: Wellington said he decided to submit the names to the clerk after talking with Prosecutor Paul Gains about the civil commissions. He said that until talking to Gains, he did not think he needed to file the names.
The commissions filed show that local civil deputies include area businessmen, doctors and public officials. Some civil deputies refused to comment about why they wanted the badges.
County Engineer Richard Marsico said his civil deputy's identification is helpful when he passes through metal detectors at public buildings. He said if he sets off the detector's alarm, he shows his civil deputy's identification to the full-time deputies at the building's entrance.
The full-time deputies then allow him to enter the building, he said.
"They know I've been checked out by the sheriff's department," Marsico said.
What's needed: Wellington said that to receive a civil commission, a local resident must fill out an application at the sheriff's department and submit to a criminal background check. He stressed that "none have criminal backgrounds."
Marsico said he filled out an application and received a civil commission a few months after Wellington took office in 1999. He added that his identification shows that he is ready to help the sheriff's department during an emergency.
Youngstown dentist Dr. Patrick Haggerty, meanwhile, said he got his identification when he volunteered to help the sheriff's department identify accident and murder victims through dental records.
Dr. Haggerty said his son, a gynecologist, has a civil deputy's badge and volunteers to perform exams on female prisoners at the county jail.
Former state Sen. Harry Meshel said he feels that his civil commission shows he's a friend of law enforcement. Meshel said he has had civil deputy identification during James A. Traficant Jr.'s tenure as sheriff in the early 1980s, as well as during the terms of former Sheriffs Edward Nemeth and Phil Chance. Traficant is a U.S. congressman.
Most county sheriffs, including Wellington, have renewed civil appointments made by their predecessors.
In December, Dennis Johnson, a Traficant employee and the head of the Columbiana County Democratic Party, showed full-time deputies his badge and identification card in December after he drove his car into a ditch in Canfield.
The deputies realized the identification was for a civil commission and arrested Johnson on a charge of driving under the influence.
"They don't get you anything special," Meshel said of the civil deputy identification cards. "They're a nice thing to have and it shows a friendly relationship with law enforcement."
Had caused confusion: Some law enforcement officials, however, have said that until recently, they were confused about some aspects of the civil commission. They said that they were not aware of the differences between a civil and a full-time deputy.
The identification cards for full-time and civil deputies share many of the same features -- the sheriff's signature, a sheriff's badge graphic in the background and the words "deputy sheriff" across the top in capital letters.
On a civil deputy's card, the words deputy sheriff and the sheriff's name are in green. On a full-time deputy's identification, the words and the sheriff's name are in black.
Wellington said civil deputies could use their identification cards to buy badges identical to those of a Mahoning County deputy sheriff's at law enforcement supply stores.
He added that the difference between the identification cards for a full-time and a civil deputy should be clear, and that the civil card states that the card holder has no law enforcement powers.
Thomas McCabe, the deputy director of the county board of elections, said his civil identification card gives him credibility when he asks campaign workers to move away from the polls on Election Day. Michael Sciortino, the director of the board of elections, also has a civil deputy's identification.
"It's almost just more for appearance," McCabe said of his civil deputy identification. "We don't have anything major going on."