Harlan County sheriff arrests judge-executive on more than dozen charges

Harlan County's sheriff picked a lock to get into the judge-executive's office Tuesday and arrested the county's top administrator on more than a dozen criminal charges.

Sheriff Marvin Lipfird said that after Judge-Executive Joe Grieshop read the warrant, he first seemed disinclined to let Lipfird arrest him.

"'I dispute these charges and don't recognize your authority,'" Lipfird quoted Grieshop as saying. "I said, 'You need to get up.'"

Lipfird said he took Grieshop to the circuit court clerk's office, in the judicial center next to the courthouse, where Grieshop was immediately released.

Attempts to reach Grieshop Tuesday afternoon and evening were not successful.

Lipfird said Grieshop is charged with third-degree burglary; theft of items valued at over $10,000; 10 counts of retaliating against participants in a legal process; and one count of official misconduct.

Grieshop and Lipfird have been at political odds at times, but Lipfird said there was no political motivation in his investigation of Grieshop.

"Politics is one thing, theft is another," Lipfird said. "I don't play favorites and I don't go out of my way to pick on people. Ain't nobody above the law."

Lipfird said the investigation related to a dispute involving a chaplain's corps associated with his office that carries out charitable activities.

In March 2011, magistrates voted to let the corps use a county-owned building at Coldiron until October 2011, Lipfird said.

Grieshop, however, wanted the building for use by an industrial prospect, so he ordered the locks cut off the building in July 2011; county workers and jail inmates carried out the contents, including food, care packages and back-to-school supplies the organization had collected, Lipfird alleged.

Lipfird said the items "supposedly" were returned to the corps, but in reality, some of the food ended up at Grieshop's house and some was used at the county jail, Lipfird said.

Lipfird said it took some time to finish the investigation because he needed to track down former inmates, and because some county workers were reluctant to provide information.

The sheriff said some members of the chaplain's corps had sued Grieshop before the incident. That is the basis for the charges that Grieshop retaliated against people taking part in a legal process, Lipfird said.

Lipfird said he obtained a warrant for Grieshop in December, signed by the local trial commissioner, but waited to serve it to make sure his case would not interfere with any other agency's actions relative to Grieshop.

He declined to elaborate on what that meant.

Lipfird said when he went to Grieshop's office to serve the warrant Tuesday about 2 p.m., he told an assistant to Grieshop he needed to see the judge-executive.

The woman went into Grieshop's office. After she came out, the door to the office was locked and Grieshop wouldn't open up, Lipfird said.

Lipfird said Grieshop called 911 during that time to ask that state police come to his office.

Lipfird said he went to another door that opens into Grieshop's office and picked the lock to get in.

He could have kicked down the door, but didn't want the cost of repairs to fall on taxpayers, Lipfird said.

In 2010, Lipfird's office and the Kentucky Attorney General's Office investigated a claim by a drug addict that she could get pills from Grieshop in his office.

Then-Commonwealth's Attorney Henry Johnson said he advised Lipfird he should look into the claim so that there would be no allegation of a political cover-up by local officials.

A grand jury rejected the woman's claim and exonerated Grieshop, but the incident was an issue in the May 2010 primary election in the county, in which Grieshop was seeking re-election to a fourth term.

Then-Circuit Judge Russell Alred — whose cousin was running against Grieshop — ordered a special grand jury to hear testimony in the case, and his order became public at a time it could have hurt Grieshop.

Alred adamantly said politics had nothing to do with his order, but the incident was among the allegations against Alred in an ethics case that ultimately led to his removal.