Sheriff denies giving relative special treatment
Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson came under scrutiny last week when son-in-law Jerrad Pruitt pleaded guilty to cocaine-distribution charges in federal court. Pruitt, 27, had worked as a dispatcher in the Sangamon County Central Dispatch System 911 call center, despite his record showing a previous felony cocaine charge [see “Snow job,” Aug. 24].
But Pruitt wasn’t the only person with family ties to the sheriff to get away with questionable behavior.
SCSO Deputy Troy Sweeney, whose daughter Crystal is married to Williamson’s son Stephen, has had a colorful career that includes excessive absenteeism, a drunken-driving conviction, and charges of domestic battery. Internal investigations show that he drank alcohol in uniform in his marked squad car and that he drank a beer at the Outlaw motorcycle club while on duty and in uniform.
Sweeney declined to comment for this article. Williamson, contacted last week, said he never gave Sweeney any special treatment, pointing to the fact that Sweeney — a 20-year veteran of the department — was demoted. Williamson couldn’t say what prompted the demotion, but sources in the SCSO indicate that it was the Outlaw incident.
Williamson also objects to the notion that Sweeney could be classified as a relation.
“He’s not family. His stepdaughter married my son. They’d been going together 10 or 15 years, long before I was sheriff,” Williamson says. “So here I am sheriff, and Troy has a string of personnel issues. He’s got a black cloud over his head.”
Sweeney’s disciplinary history includes:
* Orders of protection filed against him in 1989 and 1994 by his then-wife, Sandra.
* A guilty plea to a drunken-driving charge in January 1998, after Springfield police noticed Sweeney driving erratically at a high rate of speed. He flipped a friend’s truck after veering up the railroad embankment near Fifth Street and Stanford Avenue.
* A charge of domestic battery filed in 1999 by Sandra Sweeney. Williamson placed Troy Sweeney on 12 days’ paid administrative leave, calling it a “cooling off” period after which he would reinstate the deputy. However, Williamson changed his mind and assigned Sweeney to unarmed desk duty until the case was resolved (as trial began, Sandra Sweeney decided not to press charges). According to a State Journal-Register report, Williamson rethought the disciplinary decision after callers to a WMAY (970 AM) talk show made critical comments.
* In 2004, while working an off-duty job at the Old Luxemburg Inn, Sweeney consumed several bottles of beer, first in his marked squad car and later inside the restaurant. He then reported for duty in an intoxicated state, at one point brandishing his service weapon above his head in the briefing room. Sweeney attributed his behavior to a mixture of medications he was taking, according to an internal-investigation summary obtained by Illinois Times.
* Also in 2004, Sweeney drove his marked squad car to the Outlaw Motorcycle Club, on South Grand Avenue, tried to apply for membership, and asked to be served a beer. When club members refused, Sweeney retrieved a bottle of Miller Lite from his squad car, drank it inside the club, and left a handwritten note stating that the “5-0” had been consumed by a uniformed on-duty law officer, according to an internal-investigation summary.
Williamson adamantly denies showing Sweeney any leniency.
“That’s ridiculous. Whoever says that doesn’t know what they’re talking about. He’s one of the very few people [ever demoted],” Williamson says.
“He screwed up, and I busted him back down to deputy.”
Contact Dusty Rhodes at firstname.lastname@example.org.