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Why Local Elections Matter and Why Curious Have to Watch Their Backs

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 REPORT FROM THE FRONT LINES: Kathy Greenwell - Bullitt County, Kentucky

Elections give you: The judge, the prosecutor and the sheriff

"Watch your back," warned the voice on the phone. "You know what can happen around here," said another man, paying a visit to her workplace. "I don't want to read about them finding you in a ditch."

For some people, elections are serious business. For some citizens, democratic elections are a serious matter too. Ever since Nov. 2006, Kentucky's Kathy Greenwell has been trying to verify the election results, and like all citizens, she should have that right. "I know I sound like a hillbilly," she says in a Bullitt County drawl. "I got a deep voice. I might sound country, but that don't mean they shouldn't pay attention to what I got to say."

Kathy took the time to add up all the numbers coming out of Bullitt County on Election Night during the 2006 general election. They made no sense. Nothing added up, and the story kept changing about what was going on. What she found illustrates the broken connection between elections and the citizenry. Kathy had a good reason to be interested: Her husband Dave, now a police lieutenant for the town of Pioneer Village, was running for Bullitt County Sheriff. Sheriff races are always of great interest to the locals, and are a traditional target for election fraud. The sheriff controls contraband, like guns and drugs.

In Nov. 2006, it wasn't just the sheriff race that was contentious. Bullitt County had at least two tight house races. (1) A mayoral candidate (Sherman Tinnell) and a candidate for sheriff (Donnie Tinnell) were members of the same family. Both won. As is customary in Bullitt County, a candidate for clerk would later take custody over the audit records for his own election. ELECTIONS ARE ABOUT A LOT MORE THAN PRESIDENTS Kathy's husband, Dave Greenwell was running against Donnie Tinnell. He'd made a campaign promise to reopen a botched murder investigation.

All you do is search for "Bullitt County" and "sheriff" and a lot more information shows up on that controversy: In 1999, Dave Greenwell was the first deputy on the scene of the heartbreaking abduction of a teenage girl. Seventeen-year-old Jessica Dishon's parents had come home to find her car in the driveway, with her keys, purse, and cell phone still sitting in the car, along with one shoe. Jessica was nowhere to be found. Alarmed, Jessica's parents called the sheriff's office. Then-deputy Greenwell arrived, took photos, and sized up the situation as a possible abduction. Twice, Greenwell requested an investigator; both times the assigned official refused to come.(2)

This story illustrates that elections are absolutely NOT just about presidencies. Elections ultimately govern public safety. And as you'll soon see, Kathy Greenwell's research into this election turned up elections anomalies in nearly all the races in Bullitt County's 2006 general election. In Bullitt County, Kentucky the sheriff, the prosecutor and the judge all hold elected positions. Neither the sheriff nor the prosecutor did much to secure the Dishon crime scene. Greenwell called in the investigators; none came; yellow crime scene tape was reportedly put around the neighbor's car instead of Jessica's.

During the 72 hours that the investigator was refusing to come to the scene, the forensic evidence was contaminated. At one point a reporter had sat in the front of the car to shoot a newscast. Onlookers touched the car. Greenwell had taken several photographs, which he submitted into evidence. Those photos disappeared, along with the notes written by another investigator (Jim Adams).(2) Seventeen days after Jessica's abduction, her body was found beaten and apparently strangled in a location known as the Salt River Bottoms.(3) Not long afterward, that area was bulldozed and cleaned up. Apparently someone decided this was a good time to begin excavation for a new bridge. Satellite photo - Greenwell Ford Road Bridge: http://www.bbvdocs.org/KY/bridge.jpg

Three separate witnesses testified that they had seen Jessica Dishon with two young men in a black Camaro.(4) The young men were identified as "persons of interest" but were never charged. The items in the Camaro were never sent to the crime lab for testing. One of the young men has since died in a car accident.(5) Instead, a man named "Bucky" Brooks whose IQ hovers around 70 was accused of the crime. During the year Bucky Brooks was held in prison, Dave Greenwell's crime scene photos disappeared, a videotaped statement by a witness was lost, and the original notes by investigator Jim Adams vanished.(2)

The case against Bucky Brooks was dismissed after some illegal testimony was entered into the record.(4) Crime investigations are supervised by elected officials. Construction projects are authorized by elected officials. The prosecutor holds an elected position. Photo of the courthouse where votes are counted in Bullitt count elections - http://www.bbvdocs.org/KY/bullit-elections.jpg As the elections approached, Kathy's husband Dave decided Bullitt County might benefit from a different approach to law enforcement.

He announced his intention to run for sheriff. He was fired the same day he announced it. Greenwell sued for wrongful termination, on the grounds that any citizen has the right to run for office without getting fired; the sheriff at the time, Paul Parsley, testified that he was not about to pay a deputy who was running against him for office. The judge dismissed the case, saying there was no indication Greenwell had been fired for political reasons.(5) With the Dishon murder sitting in the cold case files, Greenwell made a campaign promise to reopen the case, and also to put the brakes on the Bullitt County habit of staffing itself with family members of elected officials.

On Nov. 7, 2006, in a Bullitt County election that the press characterized as "mass confusion," Greenwell was defeated by Donnie Tinnell. (7) Maybe the citizens of Bullitt County voted Donnie Tinnell into the sheriff's office. Maybe Sherman Tinnell was voted in as Shepherdsville mayor as well. What we do know for sure is that assorted family members of various players in the Bullitt County dramas have been hired and are sprinkled throughout the courthouse. The problem is, no one can check to make sure ANYONE in Bullitt County was actually elected. Shortly after the election, Kathy Greenwell called Black Box Voting. "We first started joking a year ago, that something would be off," Kathy said. "Donnie Tinnell was running against my husband. Everyone was being told that Tinnell was going to be the new sheriff. Tinnell had already told them they weren't going to have a job when he came in.

The current sheriff (Paul Parsley, who lost to Tinnell in the primary) had it as such a sure thing that a lot of the deputies quit months before the election. People who had years in quit." ELECTION NIGHT NOV. 7, 2006 "Paul Parsley's granddaughter was there. Every time they brought in a satchel of the tapes, in goes the granddaughter with two clerks to a filing room. Then they'd come back out and announce the results," says Kathy. "But when they gave someone a total Tuesday night, the first total they tried to make everybody believe that 6,000 people voted. They acted like it was the final count. People raised Cain, they went back and checked, then said it was 13,000 votes. Then a day or two later, it was 17,000 and now it's supposedly 20,000 votes. Each time they said it was the final. We were also told there were missing votes and they couldn't find them."

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Bev Harris is executive director of Black Box Voting, Inc. an advocacy group committed to restoring citizen oversight to elections.
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