5 FIRED IN SHERIFF’S OFFICE SEX SCANDAL

A sex scandal at the Walton County Sheriff’s Office has cost five employees their jobs. Communications Officer Mikaylah Coone, Sgt. Justin Tisdale, Investigator Aaron Ethridge and deputies Austin Bailey and Matt Williams were all notified Jan. 24 that they had been terminated. Tisdale, Bailey and Williams all had extra-marital affairs with Coone between September and November 2018, according to Sheriff’s Office internal investigation reports released Wednesday. Ethridge, who was dating Coone when the affairs were occurring, was fired for threatening “two fellow employees and their family members with job loss” after learning what was going on, the report in his case said. Coone, who is not a deputy, was fired not only for the affairs but also for lying about them when confronted by investigators. “None of those people should have been the least bit surprised,” Sheriff Michael Adkinson said of the terminations. “I’ve never been unclear about my expectations for conduct. If your personal life becomes a Sheriff’s Office problem, it’s going to end badly.” Another factor that contributed to the decision to fire the employees was the volatility of the domestic situation created by their actions, Adkinson said. “We’ve seen domestic problems across the state. You’d hate to see something happen where things got so heated somebody does something dangerous,” he said. Sustained charges in all cases included violating agency rules and orders, and conduct unbecoming a public employee. Coone, Tisdale, Bailey and Williams were also cited for having an inappropriate relationship. None of the officers fired for their involvement in the affairs reported having a relationship with another Sheriff’s Office employee, as regulations require, the reports showed. An allegation of dishonesty was also sustained against Coone. She denied ever having sex with Williams, and in an initial interview with investigators said she didn’t have sex with Tisdale. Both deputies discounted her claims. Pleas for leniency from all of the employees involved were rejected by Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jerry Bryan. “Due to the nature of the offense and the effect that this action has had on the reputation and morale of the agency, I recommend the proposed discipline be upheld,” Bryan said in a letter informing each employee of his or her termination.

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