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The blog that brought down the Lincoln County Sheriff

LKNBath_jump1.jpg
LakeNormanBath blog.

http://66.225.205.104/JR20091016.mp3

The Sheriff of Lincoln County was indicted this week for allegedly trying to cover up his role in helping a friend avoid a DWI charge. The Lincoln County Commission voted unanimously on Wednesday to try and force the Sheriff out of office. But Sheriff Tim Daugherty's real trouble began eight months ago with anonymous tips pouring into a local website. WFAE's Julie Rose has this report on the blog that sparked the firestorm: Some people online are calling Greg Gabbard a hero. "I'm definitely not a hero," insists Gabbard. "I just knew that what had happened to my daughter was wrong and there seemed to be justice for certain people and not for others. That's what bothered me more than anything else." Gabbard lives in Lincoln County and his daughter Jennifer was a sheriff's deputy until she was convicted of a misdemeanor for taking a camera from a crime scene. Gabbard says his daughter was unfairly targeted and he started a blog back in March to call attention to the situation. It's called LakeNormanBath and within two weeks, a thousand people were visiting daily. Soon traffic to the site would top out at nearly 5,000 hits a day. "I'm not sure I realized the far reaching effects that I was gonna have," says Gabbard. "I know I didn't." Gabbard says the power of the blog is that most of its visitors work in the Sheriff's office and were eager for an anonymous place to vent about illegal activity and cronyism they claimed to have witnessed. Gabbard gained their trust and promised to hide their identities. "The best information I was getting was from law enforcement," he says. "And if their names were known, they would have been fired on the spot." "It got to be so big and the information became so credible, so much of it, that it couldn't be ignored," says Ken Fortenberry, editor of the weekly newspaper and website News@Norman. Fortenberry was initially skeptical of LakeNormanBath because the posts were all anonymous and some of the stories seemed outrageous. Over at the Lincoln Times-News, managing editor Frank Taylor felt the same way at first. "Yeah, and with regard to Greg and starting the blog, one of the things he's told me was a goal was to get the 4th estate - that is the newspapers in this community - to wake up," says Taylor. "And it happened with us. After a few weeks, we caught on when we realized the warrant was going against him." Two weeks after Gabbard started the blog anonymously, the Lincoln County Sheriff served a warrant to try and find out his identity. That's what got Taylor's attention at the Lincoln News-Times. "It's always the cover up that makes you start to worry," says Taylor. "When I see a coverup, there's something there." Taylor agrees that in some ways the sheriff shot his own foot when he went after the blog, because that woke up the local newspapers and turned the situation into a much bigger deal than he probably anticipated. Once the local newspapers started looking into claims being posted on the blog, it wasn't long before the State Bureau of Investigation was involved. Eight months later, the Sheriff's chief deputy has been fired and the Sheriff himself is on trial for obstruction of justice. And it's likely none of that would have happened without Greg Gabbard's blog. So you'd think he'd be patting himself on the back. "I guess I feel ambivalent about it," says Gabbard. He doesn't feel vindicated at having brought down the Sheriff? "That was never my goal," says Gabbard. "My goal was to make sure my daughter was treated just like anyone else in the community. And I still feel like she was not. I mean I got a lot of information out there. I got a lot of people involved. But Greg Gabbard's goals, none of those has been accomplished yet." So he continues with his blog, while his daughter awaits a court date to appeal her conviction. Meanwhile, her old boss may soon be out of a job.