Dixon case to be handled like other criminal cases

Osage County Sheriff Michael Dixon plans to stay on the job even as the court system processes the five criminal charges filed against him last week.

Phelps County Prosecutor John Beger, acting as a special prosecutor, on Wednesday charged Dixon, 27, Belle, with tampering with a motor vehicle, a Class C felony, and with four misdemeanor counts: First-degree sexual misconduct, third-degree assault, harassment and stalking.

If convicted of the felony charge, Dixon could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison.

Conviction on any of the misdemeanor charges could result in up to a year in the county jail.

“I think, as far as the courts are concerned, this is like any other criminal case,” Dixon’s attorney, Travis L. Noble Jr. of St. Louis, said Friday.

“We’ll be filing motions, requesting a preliminary hearing, and taking every opportunity that we have to be able to challenge these allegations.”

No hearing dates have been set in Dixon’s case.

After the charges were filed Wednesday, the case was assigned to Osage County Associate Circuit Judge Robert D. Schollmeyer — who recused himself on Thursday.

Presiding Circuit Judge Gael Wood then asked the Supreme Court to name a special judge to hear the case — a request that hasn’t been fulfilled, yet.

Those actions didn’t surprise Noble, who noted it’s not unusual for prosecutors and judges to remove themselves from cases where the defendant is someone they work with on a regular basis.

The request to the Supreme Court, he said, simply is for “a judge who’s not from here.”

Meanwhile, Dixon will continue serving as sheriff.

State law provides no process for making a sheriff take a leave of absence while a criminal case is pending — unless he or she voluntarily steps aside.

No one in state or county government has the authority to remove a sheriff from office or force a leave of absence.

Noble explained: “As of right now, there has been an allegation made, that Sheriff Dixon adamantly denies.

“If we had elected sheriffs step down or step aside every time ... someone made an accusation, it would be pretty simple to thwart the will of the people from an election, simply by having somebody make up an allegation or a story about them.”

The state law chapter (57) defining a sheriff’s “qualifications” says the voters are to “elect some suitable person (as) sheriff,” and “no person shall be eligible for the office of sheriff who has been convicted of a felony.”

The sheriff also has to be “a resident taxpayer and elector” of the county, and must have lived in the county “for more than one whole year” before filing for the office.

And, for the last decade, the sheriff has been required to hold a valid state peace officer’s license or “refrain from personally executing any of the police powers of the office of sheriff.”

Once elected, the sheriff stays in office for four years unless he or she resigns, dies or is removed from the job because of a felony conviction.

A sheriff can’t be impeached. The Constitution reserves that process for the six elected statewide officials and for judges on the Supreme, appeals and circuit courts.

However, state law says any “elected or appointed” official can be removed from office for failing “personally to devote his time to the performance of the duties of such office, or who shall be guilty of any willful or fraudulent violation or neglect of any official duty.”

That law also allows an official to be removed if they “knowingly or willfully fail or refuse to do or perform any official act or duty” required by law.

But removing someone from office under those provisions requires some kind of legal proceeding, to get a judgment or court order with a finding that the law was violated so that the official then would be forced to “forfeit his office.”

In a criminal case, like the ones filed against Dixon last Wednesday, the “finding” would be a conviction — which would come only after a trial.

“When you’re charged with a crime, you have the right to be able to challenge that — and we’ll see how it pans out,” Noble said.

“I believe that he will be vindicated from these charges.”

State law also allows a prosecutor or the attorney general to file civil suit — in the circuit courts or the Supreme Court — to remove the officeholder.

But that process also involves a formal trial.

The attorney general’s office has filed — and won — such cases in the past.

Recently, Attorney General Chris Koster filed a case against the Cass County circuit clerk.

Koster Spokeswoman Nanci Gonder said she couldn’t discuss the specifics of the Dixon case, nor could she discuss how or when the attorney general’s office decides to file action.

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