ANDERSON — Shane Partlow kept his job with the Madison County Sheriff's Department for 23 years despite being disciplined at least five times and suspended without pay for 45 days over the past decade.
After Partlow, under threat of termination for his actions during a criminal case in 2018, resigned from the department in March, The Herald Bulletin investigated off-the-record reports of his misbehavior.
The newspaper learned, on the record from the sheriff's department and other sources, that allegations against him included the following:
• Pornographic photos on his sheriff's department laptop, including one of his genitals taken with a sheriff's department camera while in uniform and on duty.
• Asking for nude photos of a woman he stopped for speeding and then failing to show up for her court hearings.
• Using his patrol vehicle for “questionable personal reasons” and driving it to Delaware County to confront a male rival.
• Trying to strike up a sexual relationship with the victim in a domestic abuse case that Partlow had investigated and offering in a text message to confront her accused abuser: "I can take him down, if you want.”
In addition to the sheriff's department claims against Partlow, his ex-fiancee told The Herald Bulletin that he solicited sex and nude photos from other women after stopping them for traffic violations.
Partlow was hired by the Madison County Sheriff's Department as a corrections officer in 1996 and became a patrol deputy in 2000.
In a departmental reprimand in 2013, his off-duty patrol car driving privileges were revoked for about eight weeks. During the last internal investigation into Partlow's conduct, he was taken off patrol and assigned to help staff at the county jail.
In March, Sheriff Scott Mellinger recommended to the Sheriff's Merit Board that Partlow be fired after an internal investigation of the deputy's conduct during a criminal case in 2018.
The year before, Mellinger had expressed concern about Partlow’s actions.
“The pattern of behavior may not have been in close proximity, timewise, however your decision-making in these types of situations is concerning,” the sheriff wrote in a discipline letter to Partlow.
“It is apparent that you have not stopped this behavior, or if so, only for short periods of time and that we cannot continue to have you working in a place of authority which causes victims or even violators to feel manipulated or coerced by you due to that authority,” Mellinger wrote.
Under threat of termination, Partlow resigned.
In a recent interview, he insisted his resignation was a retirement prompted by the stress of working for the sheriff's department.
"I’ve dealt with PTSD for a long time for stress – that’s why I retired," Partlow said.
Partlow's salary before he left the department was $49,267. Unless criminal charges are brought against him, he will receive his full pension, which will begin in 2028 in the monthly amount of $1,919, according to Mellinger.
Mellinger said that in at least two instances, Partlow's alleged misbehavior was brought to the department's attention weeks, months or years afterward through casual conversation or discussions with people who didn't directly witness the incidents.
“Obviously, if people make us aware or we become aware very quickly, that’s a much better situation," the sheriff explained. "It’s more difficult when they come to us a year after, but we still investigate.”
Once Partlow’s conduct was discovered, Mellinger said, he was closely monitored by his supervisors.
"This behavior is extremely rare," Mellinger said. "I don’t pretend to know everything every employee is doing during down time or on their personal time, but I am convinced that our deputies and support staff are doing the right things as employees 99 percent of the time.
"When we receive complaints from the public, we investigate, and our supervisors typically are aware of their subordinates’ behaviors."
Partlow contends that he did nothing wrong during his tenure as a sheriff's deputy, and he notes that he was recognized several times by his department for outstanding service.
He was the recipient of a Crime Buster Award in 2012, commended for serving 93 warrants in 2009, given a plaque for “exemplary performance” as a civilian jail officer in 2000 and received another for his “outstanding dedication” to the department and community in 1999.
It's “all because I choose to talk to a couple of women,” Partlow said of his disciplinary record. “I guarantee 95 percent of all officers have done it in their career. There are no criminal charges. There is nothing criminal.”
Kimberly Driver, his former fiancee, however, claims Partlow used his power as a police officer to exploit women. She says she alerted the sheriff's department in 2014 about his actions.
He pulled women over and gave them traffic tickets, Driver said, and then promised to have the tickets dismissed in exchange for nude or sexually explicit photos or sexual favors.
“He was a predator,” Driver said. “He preyed on low-hanging fruit; he preyed on women who had a lot to lose if they got a ticket. He uses his power to make them do things they otherwise wouldn’t.”
From Jan. 1, 2014, until his resignation, Partlow issued 382 tickets and written warnings, Mellinger said. Without researching each case, the sheriff's department has no way of looking at how many tickets were dismissed or the gender of the people who were ticketed, according to the sheriff.
Near the end of her relationship with Partlow, Driver said, she discovered dozens of messages and nude photos exchanged between Partlow and some of the women he ticketed.
At one point, she printed the inappropriate sexual conversations involving Partlow and hand-delivered them to the sheriff's department, Driver said. However, she declined to show the same evidence of those conversations to The Herald Bulletin.
After a written Freedom of Information request May 24 from The Herald Bulletin, Mellinger released records of disciplinary action taken against Partlow. The sheriff declined, however, to release information regarding complaints the department received, with the exception of the incident that sparked his recommendation in March for Partlow's termination.
In a 2009 case against Partlow, a letter from then-Sheriff Ron Richardson to Partlow read, in part, "You were found to have numerous pornographic photos and a photo of your own genitals on your department laptop that was taken with a department camera while you were in uniform on duty.”
Partlow was suspended for seven days.
Mellinger initially hired Partlow to work in the county jail on July 18, 1996. Partlow has served on the sheriff's department under two other sheriffs, as well — Richardson and Terry Richwine.
Mellinger served as sheriff for two terms in 1991-1998 and was re-elected for two more terms in 2014 and 2018. Richwine was elected to two terms as sheriff, first in 1999 and again in 2003. Richardson served two terms from 2006 to 2014.
Most of Partlow's disciplinary records were compiled during Richardson's administration.
Documents from an internal investigation of a traffic stop made by Partlow on Feb. 27, 2012, revealed the following:
The deputy stopped a woman for a speeding violation and took her phone number from her vehicle registration documents.
Two days later he called the woman to ask whether she had a boyfriend and then asked her on a date. He began to send the woman text messages and, at one point, asked her for nude photos.
Partlow was subpoenaed three times but failed to show up in court to testify about the woman's speeding violation, according to the documents.
Richardson submitted official misconduct and harassment charges for review by Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings, and Partlow was suspended for 30 days without pay.
In a memorandum to Sheriff's Lt. David Callahan dated April 18, 2013, the prosecutor wrote that, while the investigation revealed conduct below the standards of appropriate behavior for an officer, there was no evidence of criminal conduct.
Cummings said he was not aware of the all of the sheriff's department disciplinary action taken against Partlow. But the prosecutor said he was confident that Mellinger would have alerted him to any evidence of criminal activity by the deputy.
"I trust the sheriff's judgment on that issue," Cummings said. "I know they were in contact with our office on a couple of occasions."
Allegations made by Kimberly Driver that involved Partlow issuing tickets and then having them dismissed after receiving favors "would be a problem," Cummings said.
Richardson declined to talk in depth about Partlow's conduct, saying he would have to review the discipline files with Mellinger to refresh his memory. But the former sheriff called the incidents where Partlow was reprimanded "serious."
"I think by the investigations and some of the disciplines handed down, it was all taken very seriously," Richardson said. "There was nothing taken for granted, and he knew that kind of conduct was not acceptable at the sheriff's department. That's why we did those investigations and he received the disciplines he received."
Other incidents involving other deputies occurred during Richardson's administration, he said, and each was investigated. Criminal charges were reviewed by the prosecutor in each case.
"When we are a public servant, our behavior is expected to be perfect. But we are human beings, and we are not going to be perfect," Richardson said. "It's like other situations in Madison County with elected officials or police officers, firefighters or whatever. When it gets to a certain level, you have to send it somewhere and get somebody neutral to make a decision on it."
'WORDS HAVE MEANING'
The sheriff's department took no disciplinary action against Partlow when Trent Driver, the husband of Kimberly Driver, requested an order of protection against Partlow on Nov. 7, 2012.
In his petition, Trent Driver said Partlow was stalking him, threatened to cause him physical harm and had threatened to shoot him.
During the hearing for the order of protection, Partlow informed Madison County Magistrate Stephen Clase that he had told Trent Driver to leave Partlow's Frankton home or he would be barred permanently barred from the property “if not shot.”
Clase reprimanded Partlow during the hearing.
"The only incident that concerns me is where you make an offer to shoot him if he came back," Clase said. "I consider that to be pretty serious language. Words have meaning."
Trent Driver also presented evidence to the court that Partlow had shown up in his patrol car to confront him while he and Kimberly Driver were going through a divorce. Several Elwood officers testified about the incidents between the men.
One law enforcement officer told Clase he took a photo of Partlow’s vehicle parked near Kimberly Driver's home during one of the domestic complaints and sent it to the sheriff's department.
Clase dismissed Trent Driver’s request for an order of protection but later granted one Partlow filed March 11, 2013, against Driver.
Attempts to contact Clase for comment in this story were unsuccessful.
The next disciplinary action taken against Partlow came in June 2013, stemming from a warrant arrest of a woman in 2009, according to an internal investigation by then-Maj. Brian Bell of the sheriff's department.
Bell's report documented the following:
Through phone calls, text messages and Facebook, Partlow contacted the woman after the arrest and attempted for almost two years to have a relationship with her.
The woman said Partlow requested that she send him nude photos. She told investigators she agreed but never sent the pictures.
Partlow admitted to going to the home of the woman’s mother in Madison County while in uniform and on duty to try to speak with the woman he had arrested.
“Officer Partlow’s act of trying to start up a relationship with an individual he recently arrested was inappropriate at best and brought discredit to himself and the Sheriff’s Department,” Bell wrote.
He recommended a three-day suspension, which Partlow served.
'A FORM OF INTIMIDATION'
Partlow’s privileges to use a patrol car while off duty were revoked from Aug. 5, 2013, through Oct. 7, 2013, after Bell learned Partlow had used his sheriff’s vehicle on at least two occasions during his disputes with Trent Driver.
In his investigation report, Bell warned Partlow that his police car could be seen as “a form of intimidation” and he was not to use it or “use his position as a police officer” during disputes with Trent Driver.
But four years later, Partlow was disciplined for using his patrol vehicle for “questionable personal reasons” and driving it to Delaware County. Deputies may take their sheriff's vehicle outside the county only in pursuit of a suspect or with permission from a supervisor or executive staff.
An internal investigation by the department revolved around a Daleville Police report where Partlow was listed as the “responsible party.”
According to the report, a woman had received text messages from Partlow for several months after “ending an unwanted relationship” with him.
The woman told Madison County Sheriff's investigators that she asked Daleville Police to watch her home because of Partlow’s “history of dealing with breakups badly.”
Partlow was suspended from the sheriff's department without pay for five days.
'I CAN TAKE HIM DOWN'
The final internal investigation, which ultimately triggered Partlow's resignation, was launched Feb. 12 of this year after the sheriff’s department learned about Partlow’s actions related to a 2018 domestic battery case.
In an internal probe summary, Mellinger wrote that Partlow investigated the circumstances of the battery case, took a statement from the victim and obtained an arrest warrant for the victim’s estranged husband, who was then arrested.
Mellinger wrote that “almost immediately” after the arrest Partlow started calling and texting the victim. He had gotten the woman's phone number when he took her statement about the battery case.
“Evidence obtained from the victim’s cell phone show over 600 texts” involving Partlow, Mellinger wrote in the letter. “A majority of the texts are initiated by Partlow. Most are in a series where he texts her for two, three, four days in a row with no response.”
The victim did respond at certain points, but it was “apparent that she is not interested in corresponding,” Mellinger wrote.
Partlow is accused of trying to get the victim to have a drink with him or come to his house.
“At one point Partlow texted that ‘I can take him down’ if you want,” Mellinger wrote in the letter.
The victim told investigators she wanted nothing to do with Partlow and described him as “creepy.”
“She added that she was worried, back then, that if she simply shut down Partlow’s advances that Partlow would not follow through with the case against the suspect,” Mellinger wrote.
WAITING FOR HIS BADGE
In his resignation letter to Mellinger on March 12, Partlow wrote that he is retiring from the department and would use his vacation and other paid time off before his official last day, which was April 14.
“I have enjoyed working with every officer in Madison County and serving the citizens of Madison County for almost 23 years,” Partlow wrote. “May God be with each and every fellow brother and keep them safe. Thank you, Shane Partlow.”
Partlow said in a June 19 interview that he's still waiting for the sheriff's department to send his retirement badge.
"We are considering it," Mellinger said. "There is not a clear indication that we are obligated to give that to him."
Partlow read the following prepared statement regarding his service and discipline as a sheriff's deputy:
"I’ve taken ownership of all of the investigations that came against me during my career and accepted my discipline and continued to do my dedicated career. ... If things were bad, I know both administrations would have fired me on the spot. ... If things were so bad as are being portrayed, I wouldn’t have been able to retire with a full pension and benefits and be able to keep my duty weapon."
But Partlow won't be keeping his .40-caliber Glock, despite the fact it is common practice to allow retiring deputies to keep their duty weapon and to issue them both a retirement badge and retirement identification card, according to Mellinger.
"In this case, I originally treated him as any retiring deputy and allowed him to retain his weapon," the sheriff said. "Since that time while reconsidering our policy, since he did not leave in good standing, we are in the process of requesting him to return the weapon."
A retirement badge or identification card won't be issued to Partlow, and Mellinger said that he's considering a decertification process of Partlow’s law enforcement training that would prevent him from re-entering the field.
'THROWN UNDER THE BUS'
Mellinger said he began the termination process after he became aware of Partlow's "serious behavior." The sheriff said incidents involving Partlow that occurred before the current administration had already been addressed.
"I could not have gone back in time and re-addressed the behaviors," Mellinger said. "To do that would certainly end up in a lost cause when litigated."
He said Partlow's supervisors were also aware that they were responsible for the behavior of their subordinates and that Partlow was watched carefully during his career.
"In this case, I believe that since 2015 our supervisors did the best anyone could have and that when this most recent complaint was uncovered, the supervisors were adamant that the deputy be terminated," Mellinger said.
Partlow said he is being "thrown under the bus" for things that had nothing to do with his job.
"I put in 23 great years at the sheriff’s department," he said. "Outstanding work at the sheriff’s department."
Partlow said he has been "treated like crap" since leaving the sheriff's department. He said he's taken a job in construction and that he's suffering from depression.
"No crime was committed," Partlow said of his disciplinary records. "I've never been arrested. ... If you arrested every person who sent a nude photo to a person they’re with, you would never do anything else."
Follow Traci L. Miller @_TraciMiller on Twitter, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her at 765-640-4805.