Jackson County Sheriff Mike Sharp’s Democratic opponent in the Aug. 2 primary has taken to social media and the web to question Sharp’s fitness to serve a third four-year term.
Citing three harassment complaints filed against Sharp or the sheriff’s department by current and former female employees, as well as a police report filed against Sharp by his ex-wife, challenger Brice Stewart said the incumbent’s behavior and character should disqualify him from office.
“When someone first meets Mike Sharp he is very likable,” Stewart wrote on a website he put up recently to air what he considers Sharp’s misbehavior. “However, once you get to know him, you quickly realize how wrong your first impression was.”
Sharp dismisses Stewart’s allegations as baseless, but he also says he could not comment on the employee harassment and discrimination complaints for legal reasons.
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He declined to comment on his ex-wife’s complaint that she felt threatened by him, saying it was a personal matter that had no bearing on his job as sheriff.
Stewart is a former Ferrelview police chief and now a computer technician for Jackson County who used to be assigned to the sheriff’s department.
He announced his candidacy last fall, but he only recently began taking jabs at Sharp, who has largely ignored his opponent throughout the campaign.
Stewart began his attack by uploading a video late last month that faults Sharp for costing taxpayers more than $150,000 in out-of-court settlements paid to two former employees. The women alleged they were subject to sexual harassment and sexual discrimination while working at the sheriff’s department.
The Jackson County Legislature approved both settlements, in 2014 and 2015. Both included gag orders that forbade the women from disclosing or commenting publicly on their allegations.
The video also notes that a lawsuit by a third woman who still works for the department is wending its way through the court system and could lead to another payout.
Christine Lynde’s lawsuit against Jackson County is scheduled for trial in February. Lynde says she was subject to a pattern of sexual harassment at the sheriff’s department by co-workers other than Sharp.
She said Sharp was a friend. Stewart says they were more than friends, saying Sharp hired Lynde after they had an affair.
While those cases were already public record, some of the other material Stewart has uploaded to the website is fresh.
That includes a 20-page report from 2015 listing steps the Raytown Police Department took to investigate allegations made against Sharp by his ex-wife.
According to the report, Cindi Sharp complained that Mike Sharp spied on and harassed her after learning of her romantic relationship with a mutual friend.
In emails and text messages attached to the report, Cindi Sharp wrote that she felt threatened.
“Do not contact me again,” she wrote in one email to Mike Sharp. “You are intimidating and scaring me.”
The two reconciled briefly following their 2014 divorce but then split and Cindi Sharp began dating Mick Covington, executive director of the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association.
The harassment began when Sharp, vice president of the association, found out about her new relationship, Cindi Sharp told police.
Sharp declined to comment on the police report or on Stewart’s allegation that Sharp tried to get Covington fired after learning of the affair.
“That’s my personal life,” he said, “and that’s my dealings with a guy that I befriended — that I thought was a friend of mine — and who turned out to be not quite the friend I thought he was.
“That was personal and that had nothing to do with me being a sheriff.”
In response to a request for comment, Cindi Sharp emailed a statement Thursday:
“The police report filed with Raytown Police Department speaks for itself,” she said. “My understanding is the report was ‘run’ by the city prosecutor who didn’t feel there was enough to pursue charges.”
Stewart says Mike Sharp tried to use his influence to force Covington out of his job at the sheriffs’ association. Cindi Sharp told a Raytown detective that was Covington’s impression as well.
And an email posted on therealmikesharp.com to Mike Sharp from the association’s president at the time, Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond, seems to support that contention.
In it, Bond tells Sharp he had passed on Sharp’s request for Covington’s resignation and relayed the latter’s decision to stay put. Covington did not respond to requests for comment.
Bond also rebuked Sharp in that email for repeated attempts to access association documents. That included all email messages sent and received by association employees.
“Plain and simple,” Bond wrote, “a data dump is not going to happen. It serves no purpose, other than for your personal interest, to try to sift through enormous amounts of emails, texts, pictures for whatever you are seeking.”
Bond did not speculate in the email what he thought Sharp’s goal was in trying to gain access to the emails. He also declined to comment when contacted by The Star.
But Stewart says Sharp was trying “to find out when his ex-wife and her new boyfriend started communicating.”
Sharp denies that was his intent.
“What we were trying to do,” he said, “was to determine how emails were being used by staff and how much time they played on the computer down at the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association.”
Sharp was first elected in 2008.
Stewart formerly cared for the sheriff department’s computer system. But when he was reassigned to the downtown courthouse last fall, he sued Sharp, the county and four county employees in federal court.
He alleged that the move was retaliation for his announcement that he intended to run against Sharp. A judge dismissed the suit in May.
The winner in next month’s primary will face Republican Raymond L. Draper of Blue Springs in the general election on Nov. 8.