Hillsdale citizen Joseph Hendee initiated a civil action suit on Feb. 14, requesting a citizen grand jury and a special prosecutor to investigate Hillsdale County Undersheriff Carl Albright.
Albright admitted to forging the city treasurer’s signature on two separate tax documents in July 2019.
“I felt that our public officials failed us,” Hendee said. “They never held a hearing on it. I went to the commissioner’s meeting before I filed the suit. I asked them, ‘Why haven’t you had a hearing on this?’ It was upsetting.”
Hendee said there is a conflict of interest between the county prosecuting attorney and the sheriff department, as the attorney works with the department. For this reason, Hendee said that if a public official breaks the law, the prosecuting attorney should contact the state attorney general, declare a conflict of interest, and then a special prosecutor from the state would be assigned to the case. The prosecuting attorney from the city, however, did not do this.
The sheriff’s department did not ask for an outside investigation of the matter, and the department brought no charges after legal counsel decided that Albright’s actions lacked criminal intent. Albright received a two-week suspension without pay, despite turning in his resignation. Albright declined to comment.
“I stand by Undersheriff Albright,” Sheriff Timothy Parker told the Hillsdale Daily News last September. “He has been an asset to Hillsdale County for many years. I have the utmost confidence in his ability to fulfill his duties.”
Hendee is not as confident.
“The public needs to know what happened,” he said.
Hendee submitted his suit to a county judge, who will decide whether to take any further action regarding Albright. The citizen jury, if formed, will have the power to subpoena emails, interview those involved, and make a conclusion regarding the alleged criminality of the case.
“The grand jury will get to the bottom of it,” Hendee said. “They have the power to subpoena emails. We’re going to find out what happened.”
Hendee said that several people within the county, whom he decided to keep anonymous, have contributed to this effort.
“I think it’s great that we have citizens in our county who are willing to take initiative in this nature and not be complacent,” said Jon Smith, a Hillsdale resident and campaign manager for sheriff candidate Jon Rutan.
Hendee said he hopes the suit will ensure accountability and transparency in the future.