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Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2006 02:39 pm

Snow job

Sheriff's son-in-law, a former 911 dispatcher, pleads guilty to federal drug charge

Jerrad Pruitt pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to distributing more than 500 grams of cocaine in Springfield, Bloomington, and Carbondale between June 2000 and October 2003. In open court, Pruitt confirmed that the cocaine was obtained from Danny Sidener Jr., one of six people charged last fall in an ongoing federal cocaine investigation.

Though the crime carries a mandatory sentence of five to 40 years in federal prison, Pruitt was released pending sentencing in December as a result of his ongoing cooperation with the investigation.

Pruitt, 27, is the son-in-law of Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson and, for about a year, worked as a dispatcher for the Sangamon County Central Dispatch System. Mallorie Teubner, executive director of the dispatch center, confirmed that Pruitt had been an employee until a month or so ago but could not provide the exact dates of his employment.

Sources at the Springfield Police Department and SCSO say Pruitt was placed on administrative leave after Drug Enforcement Agency officers showed up to interview him. Pruitt’s resignation came only after SPD officials began questioning the appropriateness of his employment, the sources say.

Dispatchers handle both 911 and nonemergency calls and relay those calls to police and sheriff’s deputies on patrol. As officers radio in to answer calls or to check license-plate numbers or warrant information, dispatchers are able to track their movements.

The federal plea is not the first time Pruitt has faced drug charges. In 2000, he was charged with possession of a controlled substance after an SPD officer searched him during a traffic stop and found a bag of cocaine hidden in his sock.

However, as a first-time offender, Pruitt was allowed to avoid formal conviction by performing 30 hours of community service and two years of “410 probation,” according to court documents. He completed probation in December 2002 and, in July 2004, had his case dismissed. His engagement to Williamson’s daughter, Karen, was announced in the State Journal-Register on Oct. 24 of that year. They obtained a marriage license in July 2005 — around the time Pruitt was hired in the dispatch center — and married in September.

Teubner — though declining to talk specifically about Pruitt — said that such a dismissal would preserve any applicant’s eligibility to work in the dispatch center.

“If you’re not convicted of a felony, unless your background indicates something different, you are eligible for employment — you or anybody,” she said. “We can’t discriminate based on that.”

Pruitt’s marriage to the sheriff’s daughter had nothing to do with his employment, Teubner said. Applicants must pass a multiphase validated test and undergo an interview by a panel, she said. Only candidates who score high enough on the test and the interview move to the next step in the hiring process.

“The days of someone being recommended and getting a job just doesn’t happen,” Teubner said.

Williamson, contacted Tuesday night, said he had learned about Pruitt’s pending court appearance only three hours earlier. Williamson said he had nothing to do with Pruitt’s employment, because the SCCDS board controls hiring — although he acknowledged that he is a member of that board.

“I wasn’t involved in the hiring. I wasn’t even [listed as] a reference,” Williamson said. “He wasn’t even married to my daughter when he applied.”

Williamson also said he knew little about the allegations against Pruitt and that he had first heard about the investigation in late June, while he was in Florida with his wife, visiting a sick relative.

“I got a phone call from the local DEA agent,” Williamson said. “It was like being hit in the head with a 2-by-4.” Since then, he said, he has purposely avoided learning more about the allegations.

“I don’t want to know, because I don’t want anybody to say that I called and tried to use my influence. I say whatever happens happens,” Williamson said. “It’s too bad. I hate it. It’s bad for him, and it’s bad for me. I pray that things work out for him.”

Pruitt was arrested for possession of a controlled substance in the predawn hours of April 30, 2000, according to a police report. He was the passenger in a maroon 1991 Lincoln Town Car driven by Montray Logan, who was ticketed for speeding and operating an uninsured vehicle. According to the report, Pruitt was searched because he was seen placing a small plastic bag in his right sock. When the substance inside the bag field-tested positive for cocaine, Pruitt was placed under arrest. Subsequent testing by the Illinois State Police crime lab confirmed that the bag confiscated from Pruitt contained three-tenths of a gram of cocaine, constituting a class 4 felony.

Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com

Mischa Gaus is a Chicago area freelance writer.

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