CANANDAIGUA — It started with a brief but surprising email Tuesday morning from Ontario County Sheriff Kevin Henderson after the holiday weekend.
Hours later, and after a response from county Administrator Chris DeBolt, there appears to be a deep divide between the sheriff and some members of the county Board of Supervisors. It has resulted in the resignation of the undersheriff and an upcoming investigation into Henderson and some in his administration.
The series of events started just before 10 a.m., when Henderson sent a news release to area media outlets. He said county officials, directed by the Board of Supervisors, have scrutinized the handling of internal human resources and administrative matters in his office.
Henderson said that led to a meeting with board Chairman Jack Marren and a verbal list of issues. Henderson said he was asked — under the threat of retaliation — to resign this week.
"Sheriff Henderson has no intention of resigning, and reaffirms his commitment to the citizens of Ontario County to put public safety before politics," the release said, adding that he has asked to meet with the entire Board of Supervisors as soon as possible to discuss their concerns "unfiltered."
Henderson added that after the meeting, Undersheriff Dave Frasca voluntarily resigned.
"The sheriff wants full transparency to the citizens he serves, and encourages and supports an independent investigation of the allegations verbally laid out by the county Board of Supervisors," the release said.
Henderson did not respond to requests from the Times to elaborate on the release, or whether he was being investigated on possible criminal charges. Several hours later, the Times received an email from attorney Eugene Welch, who is representing Henderson.
Welch, a former federal prosecutor and assistant state attorney general in charge of the Rochester AG's office, said he practices law with Don Chesworth, a former FBI agent, former Monroe County district attorney and former superintendent of the state police.
"Don and I believe that Sheriff Henderson, who comes from a long line of law enforcement officers of the highest integrity, is himself a man of the highest integrity and the citizens of Ontario County are being well served," Welch said. "Sheriff Henderson is not resigning and there is no reason for him to do so. There has been no misappropriation of any funds and there has been no sexual harassment."
"We do not want to say anything more about the undersheriff," Welch added.
Marren did not reply to an email from the Times seeking comment on Henderson's release. On Tuesday afternoon, DeBolt sent a release to media outlets saying the Board of Supervisors intends to start a formal investigation — pursuant to county law — into Henderson and certain members in his administration.
DeBolt said following numerous complaints to the county's anonymous compliance tip line in late 2020, the board took "decisive action" by hiring outside counsel early this year. DeBolt said the outside counsel hired an independent investigator who conducted a detailed months-long investigation into sheriff's office activities.
"The results of this independent investigation were extremely concerning and highlight the poor leadership, lack of integrity and low employee morale within the office," DeBolt's release said. "In trying to uphold their responsibilities to the employees of the office and the residents of Ontario County, the Board of Supervisors has committed to taking decisive action to address the situation uncovered by this independent investigation."
DeBolt said the board's public safety committee, which is to meet today, will consider resolutions to start the process. One resolution will appoint members to an investigation committee already unanimously approved by the board.
"This committee will have subpoena powers and will be tasked with more fully investigating the concerning conduct uncovered in the recently completed investigation," he said.
The second resolution creates a board task force to begin the process of removing the county 911 Center from the sheriff's office. DeBolt said the center is not mandated to be controlled by the sheriff.
"Our communities rely upon the integrity and trust of our elected law enforcement officers and administration," DeBolt said. "This trust has been violated, and the Ontario County Board of Supervisors is committed to taking whatever steps necessary to rebuild this trust and restore honesty and integrity to the office of sheriff."
A special meeting of the full Board of Supervisors is scheduled for Thursday evening. It will go into executive session to discuss personnel issues, with resolutions to possibly follow.
The Times also received an email Tuesday from Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley, who in January was appointed special prosecutor by state Supreme Court Justice Craig Doran to investigate potential criminal and/or public corruption matters in the county. The email was a letter Doorley sent to Henderson in April.
Doorley said after being told of the potential allegations, she determined the investigation should be focused solely on the Ontario County Jail — in particular two corrections officers whose names were redacted in the letter. She said Henderson and his team were transparent in providing files.
Doorley said her investigation revealed inappropriate conduct by the officers with female inmates dating back to the prior sheriff's administration, and inappropriate relationships with the women while they were in jail and after they were released.
Doorley said those findings were presented to Henderson and his staff, and she recommended they should no longer be employed for violating sheriff's office rules and the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
"Although I see the potential for criminal charges, I recognize these women are reluctant to testify in further proceedings," Doorley said. "It is my understanding that you agree with my assessment and will be acting accordingly in suspending corrections officers."