Nepotism can ruin the morale at any workplace, but its effects are made worse when it pervades a public institution.

We recently saw it on display at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office where Sheriff Ed Graybeal’s son, Eddie Graybeal, was given preferential treatment after his conviction for assaulting a prisoner.

Three years ago, the younger Graybeal, then a lieutenant at the department, slapped a handcuffed man inside the county jail. He received a written reprimand and was told to review the department’s use of force policy, but he wasn’t charged with a crime until a year later when another officer’s body camera video of the incident was leaked.

After he pleaded guilty to simple assault, the sheriff’s son was assigned to a civilian job at the department, then reassigned to a maintenance job at the jail when he lost peace officer certification. He made more than $28 an hour in both positions and, as a civilian, still had department-issued weapons and a ballistic vest until Press Senior Reporter Becky Campbell asked about his patrol equipment in July of this year.

His differential treatment was apparent when, in May, a jailer was immediately fired for his indictment on simple assault charges and a departmental investigation showed he used unnecessary force against an inmate and failed to report the incident.

Sheriff Graybeal retired in August before the end of his term. Maintenance custodian Graybeal was fired three weeks after his father’s retirement by Chief Deputy Leighta Laitinen, who said his assault conviction disqualified him from working in the jail.

Clear examples of favoritism like this undermine the boss’ leadership decisions. When the boss holds the highest law enforcement position in the county, it ruins the department’s cohesion and erodes the public’s trust in our institutions.

We hope the sheriff’s department can find a path beyond this ordeal. Trust can be restored, but it will take a new leader to set a positive example for the community.

Choose wisely in the upcoming county elections to find a sheriff with integrity.

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