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Deputy covers camera with mud

Mud is smeared on the lens of an outdoor surveillance camera by a Jefferson County sheriff's deputy near Imperial, Mo., on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019, in this screen grab from a homeowner's surveillance camera near Imperial.

IMPERIAL • The Jefferson County sheriff’s office has apologized on social media after a deputy used mud to cover an outdoor surveillance camera at a private home.

In a Facebook post Wednesday night, the sheriff’s department said the department’s office of professional standards is investigating.

“No excuses from us,” the sheriff said.

Grant Bissell, a spokesman said the sheriff’s department, said the department is investigating in part to find out the deputy’s motivation for smearing the camera with mud. The status of the deputy wasn’t immediately clear Thursday.

On Sunday, deputies went to a home near Imperial after St. Louis County police asked them to help find a man, Bissell said. The man, 31, is a registered sex offender who failed to check in with authorities monitoring the state’s registry, Bissell said.

Deputies went to the home in the 1000 block of Autumn Oaks Drive and couldn’t find the man, who no longer lives at the home, police say. He is on the Missouri sex offender registry for endangering the welfare of a child — an 11-year-old girl when the man was 18.

As the deputies were leaving the home on Autumn Oaks, one deputy walked back toward the home. He smeared mud on the lens of an outdoor surveillance camera that was connected to the side of the home, police say. The resident’s camera showed a deputy approaching, then the view is obstructed.

Asked why the deputy covered the camera, Bissell said, “I wish I knew. I wish I had a good answer for that.”

Bissell said the man they were searching for was “known to be a violent sex offender.”

“They’d been to that address a number of times and might come back,” he added.

The homeowner, Ashley Mathis, 28, was still infuriated Thursday.

“I don’t accept their apology,” she said. “It’s a complete lie.”

Mathis said the man they were searching for is her ex-husband, and he hasn’t lived at the home for six years. She said she has told police that before.

Mathis said she thinks deputies were at her home for some other reason, but she doesn’t know why. She said her fiancé had a run-in with an off-duty deputy a year ago, but doesn’t know if it’s connected.

“If you’re covering my camera and you’re coming back, obviously you’re doing something illegal and you’re going to do me harm,” she said.

Ashley Mathis photo of mud on camera

Ashley Mathis says this photo shows the mud covering the lens of her outdoor surveillance camera near Imperial on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019.

Mathis said she filed a complaint about the camera with the sheriff’s office on Monday morning but claims an investigation began only after she talked with reporters.

Bissell said the sheriff, Dave Marshak, wrote the social media post himself Wednesday night to apologize for the actions of the deputy. Marshak’s message was, in part:

“While the deputies were familiar with the residence, and thought they may be back for the subject, it is not an excuse for the action(s) of covering the camera. Again, we offer no valid excuse for the actions of our Deputy.”

Marshak called Mathis to apologize Wednesday night, about the time his apology was posted on social media.

“We apologize for this incident, and we will address the issue to reduce the likelihood of this happening again,” the department’s Facebook post said. “Again, no excuses from us, but a simple apology to the homeowner and our community. We will do better.”

Marshak told the Post-Dispatch on Thursday that the investigation was “wrapping up” but not complete.

“We take the actions seriously,” he said. “It’s a personnel issue, and the deputy is still employed. He has been with us for a little more than a year after graduating the academy and has undoubtedly learned from this poor decision. Regardless, we expect more from our deputies, and will continue to work to build the confidence and trust of our community.”

Kim Bell is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.