Flooring, questions and videotape in Watertown

WatertownSheriffOK, it’s actually not videotape, it’s digital phone video. But a very strange story has made its way out of the Home Depot in that fine Jefferson County city:

It all begins last Tuesday morning, when Chad A. Claflin was working at the Watertown Depot and caught sight of Jefferson County Sheriff John P. Burns, set aside the flooring machine he was working, and approached him, phone camera in hand. The video he took is below — why not take a moment for viewing? It’s very short.

Anyway, no one comes off particularly well in this video (here’s Watertown Mayor Jeff Graham’s take on it from his blog–note also the comments!), but what happened afterwards is interesting. The Watertown Daily Times reported Monday that after telling an increasingly-annoyed sheriff that he didn’t work for Home Depot but rather as a subcontractor for Kellermeyer Bergensons Services, he was fired on Wednesday evening.

Claflin had distributed the video on YouTube, and it had been picked up by NewzJunky where it got a lot of attention. He told the Times he never meant the video to go viral, and was just questioning the sheriff as a concerned constituent.

While the videotaping and subsequent distribution do complicate things, this incident raises some interesting questions. It’s also an good example of how muddy these things can be: Of course, Claflin had the right to ask Sheriff Burns those questions; and his company has the right to fire him. But that’s often how free speech and other civil rights issues play out — why would you fire someone for something that’s potentially defensible under the Constitution, when they’re literally caught in the act of not working while on the job? Interesting stuff. We’ll see how it develops.

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12 Comments on “Flooring, questions and videotape in Watertown”

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  1. Gary says:

    As an employee your actions are a reflection of your employer. There are clearly certain things that are not acceptable when working on the clock. If this guy worked for my business, I would have fired him as well!

  2. EDd says:

    The sheriff is on duty 24/7/365 hence the uniforme, gun, and car.

  3. Dad says:

    The Sheriff is an elected official and a salaried employee. What the moron video taping didn’t ask was how many times has Sheriff Burns been called to work in the middle of the night or weekends and holidays ?
    Add it all up and the Sheriff doesn’t make enough money to justify giving this moron the time of day.

    The guy should have been fired for not working when he should have been.
    Freedom of speech has nothing to do with this.

  4. John says:

    There is a major difference between “because I (technically) can” and “because I should”. The guy obviously doesn’t seem to understand that line exists, much less where it might be found.
    If he were my employee, he would have been canned as well. Unlike actors and politicians, most businesses don’t believe that bad publicity (even free) is better than no publicity at all.
    “Concerned Constituent”? Riiiiiiight – the boy is more of a “Hanging Chad” – he’s irritating, he’s been found to be someplace he doesn’t belong, and he’s become part of a story much bigger than simply himself.

    The video would have ended better if the Sheriff had tazed some common sense into him.

  5. John burns himself says:

    OK, so what the videographer did was wrong at the time that he did it. If he was working, he was essentially stealing from the company (it is up to the company to decide if they want to press charges, with the video being less than 2 minutes, 3 minutes to prepare, and if he gets paid 10 dollars an hour, he would have stolen about $0.83 before taxes). Doing something not related to his job. If he was on a break, well, I would congratulate him for standing up for what he believes in. He is watching out for my money at that point, as the law enforcement is paid for by tax dollars. What John Burns did at the end was even worse, abuse of power. Stating his position of Sheriff should never have played in that with his tone. His response should have been, well, I am the Sheriff, which means that I am on duty 24 hours a day 7 days a week. I do not get the time off that you do. I need to have access to my patrol car at all times so that if there is a major issue where I am required to be there, I have access to it no matter where I am. I am wearing my gun right now because I was on duty previously and I have not gone home to lock it up as of yet. Yes, I have my car out there, however, for safety reasons, I like to keep it on my persons until I can safely lock it in my gun safe at home. As for the other officers, I can not speak for them, they may have been out on a task to pick something up for the station, or you might have seen them on their way home from work. I will address this with them. Two wrongs don’t make a right Sheriff Burns. You should be a bigger person than that. Being a political figure, you have to be able to shoulder any question with dignity. This was not handled well, you should put forth a public apology (actually, you should have had it ready right after this confrontation) to those who you serve to protect, as of right now, I would be petrified to be even seen by you because I might be caught doing something “wrong” and you would take it upon yourself to be judge, jury and executioner. Yes, you did want to have it brought up to the store manager, but being in uniform, would have put pressure onto the manager to fire on the spot. I have laid the ball in your court Mr. Burns, any thoughts or questions in regards to my statement?

  6. Liz says:

    Let’s see it was before 8 when Sheriff comes on duty. He is given a car to drive. Good publicity for the county police force. How often is he called out on his 24-7 schedule? How often does he work weekends and nights? Do we really need people to be nasty about seeking out Sheriff Burns to find out his work schedule? How about thanking him for making sure that people are safe in the community? How about asking who is going to run after he retires? Why choose your work place to make the Sheriff possibly late for work? I know Sheriff Burns and have in the past worked with him. He has done a good job – even with some controversies in his department. I would vote for him again, and I say thank you for the job done. No one wants to take on a job like this when there are people that out there that make it look like he is always at the Depot!

  7. mervel says:

    So can I go do that to a public school teacher, a principle, how many people who work for the government can we follow around and harass because we have the “right” to do so? This guy is a jerk and deserves to be fired, for simple laziness if nothing else.

  8. re : gary says:

    you all need to stop protecting the sheriff just because he is “the sheriff” because he definately isnt perfect !!! if i had a gun does that mean i can go around shooting things “because i can” ??? wrong !!!! the sheriff needs a reality check !!!!

  9. Cindy says:

    I was the daughter-in-law of a Sheriff of a County other that Jefferson County for many years. Let me tell you a little about him. Yes, he had a car issued to him. Did he have his own vehicle for personal business, yes. If he was out on personal business he would respond with his own vehicle. Did he wear a uniform? Yes, he did. He wore it only for special occasions. He generally wore a suit and tie, stating that “everybody knows who I am, I don’t need the uniform for show.” He felt that a suit and tie was as respectful as his uniform. Did he carry a gun? Yes, but you never saw it. Did he take it with him on personal ventures? Yes, but in a locked box in his own personal vehicle. He was a highly respected Sheriff and would have never done the things that Sheriff Burns has done. Sheriff Burns two questions: does your wife ride in your patrol car, and if you were out and had an emergency would you leave her or take her with you? My mother-in-law used to joke about never seeing the inside of a patrol car:}

  10. Debbie says:

    As many times as this story has been published not one reporter has done any investigating on this. So many people have an opinion of the Sheriff being in uniform and on duty…. PEOPLE it was 7:30am hence the floor machine. Mr. & Mrs. both drove separate vehicles on their way to work and met there!!! A cop on his way to work particularly the “Sheriff” will have his side arm on him, if he is off duty and in plain cloths then it should be concealed. Maybe if the dude caught him in plans cloths with the side arm on his hip like Johnny West then maybe he has a point. What he should have done is just video tape him and then request an interview via phone video without Mrs being in the shoot. ( no pun intended)

  11. tootightmike says:

    I think it’s interesting that the video in question has been removed…so that the rest of us cannot make our own judgements, but instead, have to rely on the “he said, she said” method of public discourse. Many have said, that if you’ve nothing to hide, surveillance is not a problem. We see though, that when the table is turned, the same logic doesn’t hold.

  12. Marlo Stanfield says:

    I know very little about Sheriff Burns, but whatever your views on him, if you’re an employee at a business you treat all the customers like customers. Not as targets in a gotcha Youtube video. He deserved to be fired.

    It’s ironic that this guy was asking the sheriff about regulations about doing certain things on and off duty, while he was on duty at Home Depot performing a clearly personal endeavor.

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