Phelps should do the right thing

Published 9:48 am Friday, May 13, 2011

As his son twists in the winds of the criminal-justice system, it’s time for Isle of Wight County Sheriff C.W. “Charlie” Phelps to man up and take responsibility for what was, at best, a failure of leadership and, very possibly, a violation of the laws that the sheriff is sworn to uphold.

By any standard, the use of convicted felon Jonathan Burns as a volunteer and later a full-fledged employee of the sheriff’s office was poor judgment. An Isle of Wight County grand jury has decided that Burns’ actions as a representative of the sheriff’s office were something worse.

The grand jury last week indicted Sheriff’s Capt. Paul Phelps, the sheriff’s son, for allegedly knowing that a convicted felon illegally possessed a department-issued stun gun. Burns himself was indicted on a count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

The sheriff, who had braced for his own possible indictment in the case, seems to have escaped criminal prosecution for now. What he hasn’t escaped is responsibility for the poor leadership and management of his force that allowed this mess to transpire.

Phelps, a veteran lawman who has announced plans to run this year for a seventh term as sheriff, needs to think seriously about bowing out gracefully.

The cloud of uncertainty that will hang over the Phelps family and the sheriff’s office while Paul Phelps and Burns are prosecuted will render the elder Phelps ineffective and create a highly charged political atmosphere for this year’s sheriff’s race.

Charlie Phelps has served the citizens of Isle of Wight honorably for many years. That should be his legacy, rather than that of a tarnished lawman who held on too long.