Ithaca, N.Y. — The former Tompkins County undersheriff has written a 9-page letter that accuses Sheriff Ken Lansing of providing misleading information about the Hornbrook Road incident and of being unresponsive during critical incidents, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Ithaca Voice from a source who asked to remain anonymous.


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Derek Osborne, who stepped down as undersheriff in February 2015, says that Sheriff Lansing unfairly blamed Osborne for not notifying him properly about the standoff in Danby. (Sheriff Lansing was criticized for not arriving at the scene fast enough during that fatal altercation.)

“I can no longer sit by and watch in complete embarrassment the response of Sheriff Ken Lansing,” says Osborne, who also served in sheriff’s office as a senior investigator and captain. “I may not be the county Undersheriff any longer, but I am still a member of this community.”

“Real leaders don’t publicly blame their own subordinates for their shortcomings … A Sheriff shouldn’t point the finger at someone else when the heat is put on them, especially when that person isn’t even present.”

Sheriff Ken Lansing responds

Sheriff Ken Lansing, reached for comment Monday morning, said Osborne’s claims are untrue.

Lansing said he was at the Hornbrook Road incident at 6 a.m. as soon as he was on his way to work in the morning. He said that he had a conversation with Osborne in which, according to Lansing, Osborne explained the incident but said, “‘You can call me if you want. That was his message.’”

Lansing also said it’s not essential — or even possible — for him to respond to every call for major incidents.

“Does the sheriff show up for everything? If I did I’d be a walking zombie,” Lansing said.

Lansing said he works over 40 hours a week. “Find me not here … I was here far more than he was,” Lansing said of Osborne.

“Am I perfect? No … I don’t claim to be. But you don’t do what I’ve done by being a person that’s a liar.”

Sheriff Lansing characterized Osborne as a disgruntled former employee who has been changed by unspecified personal issues over the last several years.

“I’m not going to cut him down,” Lansing said. “I’m very upset and disappointed and I guess he has some anger toward me, and he wanted to voice it and I don’t know why now.”

“…He’s on an ego trip here and is somebody who’s upset about ending his career earlier than he wanted to. That’s what I’m so upset about.”

“… He wasn’t who he was when I made him the undersheriff. But let’s forget that. He’s had 20 years. I had 42 years,” Lansing said, citing policing awards on his wall that “he’ll never get.”

“How did I do that? Because I’m inept and I’m over my head? Come on, that makes no sense.”

Osborne’s allegations

Among the complaints in the letter, dated Sunday:

1 — Hornbrook Road

Osborne said that Lansing should have been at the scene of the Hornbrook Road incident earlier.

“The Sheriff has attempted to lead people to think that I ‘chose’ to make notification to him by calling his cell phone, rather than his landline, when I ‘knew’ he didn’t have cell service,” Osborne says in his letter.

That claim is false, says Osborne, who cites AT&T record logs and notes that he wrote the policy on the relevant procedures. He also says that other officers tried and failed to reach Sheriff Lansing, but that only he was blamed.

2 — Unresponsiveness at other times

The former undersheriff also accused the sheriff of being unresponsive during other key incidents, like the death investigation of Tompkins inmate Travis Yavits, a homicide in Cayuga Heights and during the protests in Ithaca over the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.

“I would love to hear the sheriff attempt to explain how these high magnitude incidences also don’t necessarily require his notification or response,” Osborne says.

Lansing responded that he didn’t have to respond to the Cayuga Heights homicide; the investigation was being led by another police agency.

“I didn’t have to know that immediately,” he says.

He also says he didn’t have to be at the jail immediately or read Osborne’s report on the jail death.

“Did I really need to know that the gentleman expired in the jail three hours before I come to work?,” Lansing said. “He claims I never read the ‘After Action’ report; well, it was a lot of pages … and I trust him.”

Lansing cited looking “through the darkness” for a murderer in the forest several years ago and responding to other volatile scenes, like a serious car crash on Route 34 and a domestic incident with shots fired.

“(Osborne) doesn’t mention that, does he?,” Lansing said. “The ones he does mention are relatively minor.”

3 — ‘Retired’ as undersheriff

“I ‘retired’ as Undersheriff on February 16, 2015,” Osborne writes.

“…I spent the last four years listening to the sheriff brag internally and publicly to anyone who would listen on how I ‘serve at his pleasure.’”

Lansing, however, said that he was joking — and that this is a longstanding joke in the sheriff’s office.

“That was in fun and in jest, I thought,” Lansing says. “…I’m sorry he took it personally.”

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.