Longtime Fayette deputy clashes with schools’ investigator
For Fayette County Sheriff’s Lt. Francis Cavender it was a March 20 residency check on his grandson by the Fayette County School System that he would not agree to.
Cavender’s refusal to allow the school system representative entrance into his home led to a complaint by Fayette County School System Pupil Personnel Services Director Barbara Serapion that as a member of law enforcement he should be punished.
But Cavender was not punished by his employer. Instead, he was exonerated for standing his ground and not relinquishing his constitutional rights.
For its part, the school system said the issue of a resident not wishing to comply with an affidavit can be handled on a case-by-case basis at the Welcome Center. And Serapion said she did not remember telling the sheriff’s investigator that she wanted Cavender punished.
A longtime officer with nearly 40 years in law enforcement, Cavender said he was preparing to go to his job at the Fayette County Justice Center when Fayette County School System social worker Eulene Paulk came to his door to conduct a residency check pertaining to his grandson’s residency. It was a residency check that Cavender refused to allow.
Paulk in a March 20 letter said she went to Cavender’s south Fayette County home at 6:45 p.m. on March 13 to verify the child’s residency and spoke with a man she believed was Cavender. She said the man was dressed in a sheriff’s deputy uniform that included a gun.
Paulk said Cavender raised his voice after she identified herself and her reason for being there, adding that he asked her if she had a warrant.
Paulk in the letter said she informed Cavender that the signed affidavit provided to the school system enabled her to visit the home to confirm the child’s residency.
Paulk said Cavender, who was still inside the doorway, again raised his voice, leaned toward her from inside the doorway and told her to leave his property. Paulk also noted that she felt very threatened and left immediately.
Commenting on the exchange, Cavender verified that he would not let her in his home and that he told her three times to leave his property. As for raising his voice, Cavender said he customarily talks loudly.
“It was an intrusion on my privacy. I think his (grandson’s) last name being Hispanic might have been a trigger for the residency visit. My wife swore (on the affidavit) that this is where he lives. He has always lived here,” Cavender said.
“But I changed my mind about (the affidavit). If they had probable cause or a proper search warrant then my door is open to them. But I think they were pretty much gathering evidence for a potential crime,” Cavender said.
The matter with the residency check did not end there. The situation took another turn when school system Pupil Personnel Services Director Barbara Serapion contacted the sheriff’s office about the home visit.
A March 20 report by Det. Aaron Fenimore noted that Serapion contacted the sheriff’s office to file a complaint against Cavender.
Fenimore in the report said he determined that, based upon court findings, a search of the premises was not authorized without all occupants giving consent. Since Cavender’s wife signed the affidavit but Cavender did not, that meant the affidavit was not binding, Fenimore said.
Fenimore in the report said Serapion took the issue a step further.
“I also established with Barbara Serapion that Lt. Cavender was not acting as a deputy sheriff at the time of the incident. The fact that he was in uniform does not mean he has to give up his 4th Amendment rights or even compel him to have a detailed conversation with the (school system) employee. Ms. Serapion told me that she would not make a complaint of this nature on a ‘normal citizen’ but since Lt. Cavender was a sheriff’s deputy she wanted him punished for not being professional,” the report said.
But having Cavender punished by his employer did not occur. Fenimore said that while Cavender appeared to have done as Paulk said, he was under no obligation to the school system and had every right given him as a citizen of the United States of America to tell Paulk to leave his property.
“Therefore, Lt. Cavender has been exonerated of the complaint against him,” Fenimore said.
Fenimore also noted that Sheriff Barry Babb had been notified about the visit and the comments from the school system.
School system Deputy Superintendent Sam Sweat on Monday noted that Cavender’s wife had signed the affidavit which states that she gave her voluntary consent to allow a school system representative to visit the home to verify residency.
“The affidavit gave us permission and the wife signed it. We expected (a visit) not to be a problem. We don’t do searches. We only wanted to verify residency,” Sweat said, adding that the school system has the capability to use a deputy at a residence if the situation warrants it. A deputy was not called to Cavender’s home.
Sweat said that a resident not wanting to comply with a residency affidavit should visit the Welcome Center where the issue will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Pertaining to Serapion’s position that Cavender be punished, Sweat said Serapion told him that she did not remember telling the investigator that Cavender should be punished.
“For us to pass judgment on law enforcement, and as a personnel issue, is not in our purview. I wouldn’t want the sheriff to tell me what to do with one of my employees and I wouldn’t want to tell him what to do with one of his,” Sweat said.
Sweat noted that Serapion did not contact him about the issue.