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WKYT Investigates | Family's run in with pajama-wearing constable

On top left, Laurel County Constable Bobby Joe Smith.  On bottom left, Clark County Constable...
On top left, Laurel County Constable Bobby Joe Smith. On bottom left, Clark County Constable Glenn Witt. On bottom right, Muhlenberg County Constable Willie Parker.(WKYT)
Published: Mar. 14, 2018 at 6:10 PM EDT
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Calling into question the role of constables in Kentucky, a Bath County family claims a constable -- wearing pajamas and driving his mother's car -- showed up at an accident scene and tried to let an impaired driver off the hook.

The constable said it's all a lie, except the part about the pajamas.

Aleisha Richards heard a loud car drive by the front of her parent's house late at night a few weeks ago. After her family ran outside and found a car stuck in their yard, Richards says the driver had no idea where he was.

"He said he thought this was an interstate ramp at one point so he was clearly lost and very confused. He did not need to be driving at all," Richards told WKYT's Miranda Combs.

After calling 911 and before sheriff's deputies or a Kentucky State Police officer could get there, Richards says Bath County Constable Gordon Swartz showed up.

"He came out in his pajamas and was like, 'OK, we need to pull him out,'" Richards said. The constable's actions prompted the Richards to make a second 911 call which was obtained by WKYT.

Caller: "We called for a sheriff a while ago and there's a constable out here and he's just making matters worse and you guys need to get out here now. You hear me? And I don't understand why a constable was sent at all." Dispatcher: "I can tell you from experience, I never sent a constable." Caller: "OK. This man has screamed in her face and everyone else."

Richards told WKYT the constable said, "'I'm the constable and my orders are going to be followed, and I'm here to help with this. And I want him pulled out right now."

Swartz told WKYT he recalled hearing the 911 call on his personal scanner so he showed up to help, and he was not trying to let the driver go. Instead, Swartz said he was trying to make sure the driver didn't leave the scene before a deputy or police officer arrived. He said he didn't attempt to make an arrest because he didn't have his equipment with him because he was driving his mother's car that night.

WKYT's investigation found the driver of the car that night was sent to jail after the constable left the scene. Michael E. Duvall, 28, was charged on nine different counts, including driving while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

"It's stories like this that give constables a bad name," said Fayette County Constable Jeff Jacob. Unlike in other counties, Jacob limits himself to mostly serving court papers.

In Kentucky, there are approximately 500 elected constables.

The only way to get a constable out of office is to have them impeached, which hasn't happened since the 1800s. Under the state constitution, constables have the same rights as a trained law enforcement officer, but nothing in the constitution says they need training.

WKYT uncovered that Swartz didn't have any training with the Kentucky Constable's Association since he became constable in 2015. And that's perfectly fine, according to state law.

WKYT was unable to find out if Swartz had training from any other source, and the Kentucky Constables Association said they have no record of complaints against him.

Over the past several years, constables and their actions have been in and out of the news.

  • In December, Muhlenberg County Constable Willie Parker was arrested and charged with helping a jail inmate escape from custody.
  • In March 2017, a jury found Laurel County Constable Bobby Joe Smith guilty of reckless homicide.
  • In 2016, Kentucky State Police arrested Clark County Constable Glenn Witt for allegedly trafficking drugs. The Kentucky Association of Counties has been pushing for more training for constables so they better understand their roles and the law. "I've had county attorneys tell me that they will not prosecute an arrestee who was arrested by a constable because they don't know proper police procedures," said Rich Ornstein, an attorney for the Kentucky Association of Counties. "Having untrained peace officers can lead to greater liability and also unsafe situations for your citizenry." The Kentucky Constables Association says its members would like more training, but it's just hard to get through the state. "Most constables do a great job. They work with their sheriff's department. They work with the police. And when you have somebody that wants to be on an island by themselves and not get training, not try to be more professional, it makes us all look bad," Jacob said.