He was accused of cheating prisoners, sexually molesting an underage girl and violations of the ethics statutes, but none of it was true. But as a result of press-innuendo, lies and trumped-up charges, Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin lost his reelection bid in 2018.
A piece by al.com in 2018, cast Entrekin as a villain who was skimming hundreds of thousands of dollars from funds allocated to feed inmates housed at Etowah County and the Federal Detention center located in downtown Gadsden.
An audit conducted by Alabama’s Department of Examiners of Public Accounts found no improprieties in Entrekin’s actions or expenses. The Examiners of Public Accounts scoured records from August 1, 2015, through September 30, 2018, and found, “the examination did not disclose any significant instances of noncompliance with applicable state or local laws and regulations.”
The Department of Examiners of Public Accounts by statute “is empowered to audit the books, accounts, and records of all state and county offices, officers, bureaus, boards, commissions, corporations, departments, and agencies and to report on expenditures, contracts, or other audit findings found to be in violation of law.” Furthermore, the department’s findings “are prima facie evidence in court proceedings.”
If the examiners had found any irregularities in Entrekin’s audit, the matter would have been turned over to the State’s Attorney General or another entity state or federal for prosecution. The Department of Examiners of Public Accounts found no wrongdoing on Entrekin’s part after auditing three years of records.
Although the examiner’s findings were issued in August of this year, a Google search doesn’t show any reports from Alabama or national news outlets.
The audit in part came from a grandstanding request by State Auditor Jim Zeigler who told al.com at the time, “I had gotten several inquiries, complaints from citizens in Etowah County about this,” meaning a report from al.com claiming Entrekin had “pocketed” over $750,000 in jail food funds. At the time, al.com noted that Zeigler’s letter came seven days after it published its report on Entrekin.
Zeigler’s office has no authority to conduct high-level audits despite the prestigious sounding title he holds.
While Zeigler grabbed a headline, Entrekin was tarnished. Zeigler never apologized for his part in the false accusations against Entrekin.
Also as a result of news reports and a complaint, the State’s Ethics Commission launched an investigation during which they found Entrekin had not violated a single ethics statute.
After making allegations of Entrekin misusing food funds, al.com published a story in which a woman came forward to claim Entrekin had sex with her when she was 15 years old and he was 29.
After a thorough investigation by law enforcement, this, too, was proven false.
Media outlets later labeled Entrekin the “Beach house sheriff,” because he and his wife purchased a home in Orange Beach with a $592,000 loan from Peoples Bank of Alabama.
In local and national news, Entrekin was portrayed as a man who benefited personally from withholding food from inmates. The meals served inmates in Etowah County, were under the guidance of a dietitian and reporters were invited to the jail not only to see food inmates were provided daily but also to sample the meals. The press did not widely report the quality of the food.
The media also failed to report that when Entrekin took office as Etowah County sheriff, he and his wife were forced to take out a $500,000 loan to feed prisoners because the previous sheriff had drained the fund.
The State Legislature did away with the prisoner food fund in 2018, something that Entrekin supported.
Law enforcement, the ethics commission and the Examiners of Public Accounts found no wrongdoing, but the damage to Entrekin’s reputation was complete in the minds of those who read the news stories without ever seeing that a thorough investigation by three state entities had exonerated him.
News accounts accused Entrekin of serious wrongdoing. Still, those who investigate and prosecute crimes never found one instance of Entrekin committing a crime or any actions in violation of state law or statue.
Bill Britt lives part-time in Etowah County. He has met Entrekin on three occasions.