• Lynda Cohen

Atlantic County sheriff responds to coronavirus 'cover-up' allegation

Updated: May 19

An Atlantic County sheriff’s officer has tested positive for the coronavirus. The unnamed officer is now home from the hospital.

But how the sheriff handled the issue is being questioned by a local radio host. Harry Hurley broke the story of the officer’s status in a report that accused Atlantic County Sheriff Eric Scheffler of covering up the diagnosis and risking his officers. “It is true that one of our officers tested positive for the COVID-19 virus,” Scheffler wrote in a news release responding to Hurley’s report. “It is completely untrue that there was any ‘cover-up’ pertaining to notification to all of our department and anyone who may have been in contact with this officer.” Hurley made no effort to confirm the report, Scheffler alleges. “A simple telephone call to either myself or other subjects of the article would have avoided the spread of misinformation during a time where factual information is more important than ever,” the sheriff wrote. While Hurley claimed that 80 to 100 people may have been exposed, Scheffler said the officer had been on a detail in the weeks before he fell ill, and had not been at either of Atlantic County’s courthouses in Atlantic City or Mays Landing. The radio host cites “well-placed sources” saying that Scheffler “knew about an officer’s hospitalization and kept the news from the rank and file for an extended time frame ‘in a cover-up.’” Hurley, who added the sheriff’s full response to his own report, said in the update that after publishing his story, he reached out to a close confidant of the sheriff, requesting comment. "Scheffler knew from the start that I wanted him included in this report," he wrote. In the statement, Scheffler says the officer contacted the department a few weeks ago, saying he was not feeling well, and was told to stay home. The officer remained out of work, and then checked into the hospital in late March. “Approximately, five days after the officer checked into the hospital, test results confirmed positive for the virus,” the sheriff wrote. “Immediately, anyone whom had been in contact with this officer, the county health department and general rank and file were appropriately notified.” Hurley said his sources first found out about the case March 18, after the officer had been in the hospital several days.

He said that it “finally became wider (but, still only internally) known to the sheriff’s officers at a recent PBA meeting, when they learned that their fellow officer was in the hospital.” Scheffler said that could not be true, since there has been no PBA meeting since March 11, prior to the diagnosis. Even before the diagnosis, Scheffler said that he had put protocols in place to lessen the potential spread of the virus. He said he divided the rank-and-file into two platoons of 26 to 30 members. “While one shift mans the courthouses, the other shift is working from home on a week on/week off basis,” Scheffler wrote. Hurley also alleged that a sergeant who works the courthouse is self-quarantining with his wife and showing symptoms. A sheriff’s spokesman told BreakingAC that the sergeant is still home and doing well. “We have continuously checked on the safety and welfare of all our employees,” Scheffler said. “Any individuals who are not feeling well are asked to stay home. We have adopted protocols/procedures and provided all of our staff with substantial information pertaining to COVID-19 safety precautions.”

Hurley did not respond to requests seeking comment, but did address the sheriff’s response HERE: Atlantic County Sheriff's Officer Contracts Coronavirus; Coverup Alleged


Sheriff Scheffler’s full response is also reprinted below: As the Atlantic County Sheriff, I am greatly disappointed in an article published today by a local radio host/journalist.


I have always maintained a good working relationship with Harry Hurley and am surprised that he never tried to reach out to me directly in an effort to confirm or deny the allegations contained in his article. Simply stated, those allegations against me are completely false and inaccurate.


Apparently there was absolutely no effort made to confirm any of the information with the subjects of the article. A simple telephone call to either myself or other subjects of the article would have avoided the spread of misinformation during a time where factual information is more important than ever.


My number one priority as the Sheriff is to protect the safety and health of all the men and women employed by our Department, as well as our entire Atlantic County community. Any suggestion to the contrary is irresponsible and baseless.


In an effort to dispel these groundless rumors I would offer the following:


Early on in this crisis, I divided our entire rank and file into two (2) platoons. We have been working on this schedule for quite some time. Members of our department are divided into 26-30 member shifts. While one shift mans the courthouses, the other shift is working from home on a week on/week off basis.


We have respected social distancing as well as possible under the dynamics of a law enforcement agency. We have continuously checked on the safety and welfare of all our employees. Any individuals who are not feeling well are asked to stay home. We have adopted protocols/procedures and provided all of our staff with substantial information pertaining to COVID-19 safety precautions.


Unfortunately, not unlike many other law enforcement agencies, grocery stores, business entities, etc. we have in fact been impacted directly. It is true that one of our officers tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. It is completely untrue that there was any "cover-up" pertaining to notification to all of our department and anyone who may have been in contact with this officer.


That particular officer had been working a detail for the past several weeks and was not stationed at either of the Atlantic County Courthouses. A few weeks ago the officer contacted the Department and indicated that he was not feeling well and was advised to stay home. The officer remained out of work and ultimately checked into the hospital in late March 2020.


Approximately five (5) days after the Officer checked into the hospital, test results confirmed positive for the virus. Immediately, anyone whom had been in contact with this officer, the county health department and general rank and file were appropriately notified.


Furthermore, that officer and his family have conveyed his sincere appreciation for the assistance provided from the Sheriff's Office to him and his family. It is offensive that the article in question suggested that the Sheriff's Department did not provide any assistance to the officer's family. That is 100% false.


Presently, no other officer has tested positive in the Department. Any members of the Department that are not feeling well are asked to self-quarantine and get tested. Unfortunately, law enforcement officers like everyone else in South Jersey are having a difficult time acquiring tests for the virus.


This is an international crisis and our Department unfortunately has the same exposure as every other individual. I am doing everything I can to ensure the Atlantic County Sheriff's Department is following all directives from the CDC and other agencies responsible for our health and safety.


We continue to have daily meetings with the administration as well as rank and file to continue an open line of communication throughout our department. I certainly believe that it is necessary and imperative that each individual member of our department is fully informed of any potential exposure of the virus.


This COVID-19 virus has created a serious and unique risk for all members of our society. Unfortunately, there is a learning curve as we continue to gather more information about this highly contagious disease. I firmly believe that full transparency without violating HIPAA laws is the best way to protect the health and safety of our members. As always, if anyone ever has any questions pertaining to how our Department is handling any issues then I will make myself directly available.


In summary, the "impeccable source" cited by Harry recklessly provided false information. There was timely if not immediate reporting to all members of our Department. Furthermore, anyone who was known to have contact with this officer was quickly notified of possible exposure by our Department and the County Department of Health.


Additionally, the last PBA meeting for that Department predated the officer's illness. As confirmed by the PBA President, there has not been a meeting since March 11th. All of these false rumors could have been dispelled with a simple telephone to me.


We have and will continue to gather information and disseminate to everyone employed by the Atlantic County Sheriff's Department in an effort to protect their health. Any suggestion to the contrary are not in accordance with fact or reality. Please pray for the health/safety of all members of our Department as well as our Atlantic County Community.

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