CANANDAIGUA, NY - Alleged instances of verbal forms of sexual harassment by Sheriff Kevin Henderson and others in his administration are at the heart of a new investigation that soon may be launched by the Ontario County Board of Supervisors, according to Ontario County Administrator Chris DeBolt.
On Wednesday, members of the Ontario County Board of Supervisors' public safety committee - after a lengthy executive session - voted to move to the full Board of Supervisors resolutions that would appoint members to an already created investigative committee, which would have subpoena powers.
The resolution, as well as another that would create a task force looking into moving the 911 emergency communications division from the Sheriff's Office, are to be considered Thursday night.
None of the supervisors who are members of the committee spoke publicly about their votes.
After the meeting, DeBolt confirmed that a roughly five-month long independent investigation was prompted by complaints to the county's anonymous compliance hotline and resulted earlier this year in the board's hiring of outside counsel, which in turn hired an independent human resources investigation firm.
That report produced by the outside investigation has not been made public as of yet. During the investigation, DeBolt said over 70 current and former employees of the Sheriff's Office were interviewed.
"What they found was disturbing, to say the least," DeBolt said. "Comments made by the sheriff to employees of a sexual nature. Comments made of a sexual, racial and homophobic nature, some of which were made in the sheriff's presence, and the sheriff not only did not address it with the speaker, but laughed about it and said things like, 'I'm supposed to discipline you now. Ha, ha.' And then never did."
In another allegation, DeBolt said Henderson demanded to listen to a recording of an anonymous complaint in an attempt to determine the identity, but was refused.
Henderson has not returned calls for comment, but in a statement he issued Tuesday said he "has no intention of resigning, and reaffirms his commitment to the citizens of Ontario County to put public safety before politics."
Undersheriff David Frasca has resigned, which DeBolt characterized as unprompted.
DeBolt said Henderson was asked to resign, and in refusing, the sheriff decided not to do what is "best for the citizens of Ontario County nor for the employees of this department and leave, so we can correct what has been transpiring under his administration."
The sheriff was provided the opportunity to participate in the outside investigation with his counsel present, and to provide documents and corroborating evidence, but chose not to, DeBolt said.
"There are questions that remain unanswered that the board feels they need to get to the bottom of," DeBolt said, explaining the need for the board's investigation.
DeBolt said morale is low in the department, and that those who are able to leave are leaving.
"These are people who decided they could not work here, for this sheriff, anymore and had to go somewhere else to do the same work," DeBolt said.
Following the Thursday meeting, if the resolutions are adopted, more conversations will be had on what the next steps are and how best to proceed, DeBolt said.
"Our highest priority right now is protecting the employees of the department," DeBolt said.
Henderson, a Democrat who is in his 38th year with the Sheriff's Office, defeated Republican Silvio Palermo in 2018 to succeed former Sheriff Philip Povero, who retired. Henderson also formerly served in the elected position of county coroner.
The four-year seat is up in November 2022.