The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office’s 2013 Deputy of the Year was fired last month after admitting to purchasing cocaine while on duty, in uniform and in a patrol vehicle “a couple dozen times,” according to his termination letter released Wednesday.
The sheriff’s office launched an investigation into Deputy Austin Shepherd in March 2012 after he was spotted going into the Davis Mill Road residence of known drug dealer Stephen Marquise Crawford.
Shepherd told a disciplinary review board he went into the home, which was outside of his beat, while on duty to trade video games with Crawford, who was a longtime friend, according to the letter. Then-Sheriff Ronnie Strength suspended Shepherd for 15 days and placed him on a year of probation.
After Crawford was sentenced in federal court on drug charges on Dec. 19, 2013, an investigator for the sheriff’s office interviewed him about his involvement with Shepherd.
Crawford said he met Shepherd about 2006 in Wrens, Ga., before he was in law enforcement and would sell cocaine to him “almost every day,” according to the termination letter.
After he became a sheriff’s deputy, Shepherd continued to buy cocaine from Crawford “at a minimum of once a week” while on duty and in his patrol car, Crawford told the investigator.
Crawford said that he received information about the narcotics division through their relationship and that Shepherd would trade drugs confiscated from offenders with him for cocaine.
In an interview with Maj. Scott Peebles on Dec. 30, Shepherd said he had not dealt with Crawford since October 2012 and had not used cocaine since April 2012.
Shepherd admitted to using cocaine while employed with the sheriff’s office and had bought the drug from Crawford a “couple dozen times.”
He also admitted to using cocaine during college and lying on his pre-employment application and polygraph about his drug use.
He denied, however, trading confiscated drugs with Crawford or providing sensitive information about the narcotics division, according to the letter.
Sheriff Richard Roundtree stated in a media release Wednesday that his office worked with the local FBI office to determine whether criminal charges could be pursued after Shepherd’s termination Dec. 30.
Because enough evidence wasn’t available for a prosecution, no criminal charges will be filed, Roundtree stated. Sheperd, a five-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, was selected as Deputy of the Year for 2013 and recognized by the mayor and the Augusta Commission as county Employee of the Month in September.
The honor came after the deputy discovered a family of four on Washington Road that had been living in their vehicle for a week. A woman who suffered mental problems had taken the vehicle with her 2-year-old and left her husband and 8-year-old son behind after destroying the boy’s clothing.
After Shepherd stopped her auto, the woman begged him to shoot her before she was taken into custody.
Shepherd and his wife bought clothes for the 8-year-old and raised $140 through donations from fellow officers to help the family. The deputy also worked with a friend who manages a motel so the family could have a room at a reduced rate.
The 19 felony arrests that Shepherd made in 2013 were another reason for the award, police said at the award ceremony.
Shepherd also spearheaded a fundraiser to give to the employees of a car wash at Walton Way and Crawford Avenue who have befriended deputies. The fundraiser resulted in $350 being divided among the car wash employees.
As part of his award, Shepherd received a day off with pay, more than $500 in gift certificates donated by businesses, a sheriff’s office watch, a plaque and a letter from the sheriff.
Staff Writer Bianca Cain Johnson contributed to this article.