A criminal felony charge was filed against Pike County Sheriff Paul Petty, alleging official misconduct and failure to perform duties, court records state.
Petty said he had no idea the charge was coming until he got a call about papers needing to be delivered to him.
"I was getting ready to fry fish at my church dinner," Petty said. "I thought it was an eviction notice I had to deliver or something. Not this."
Pike County State's Attorney Carrie Boyd filed information on the case May 16 and the allegations center around Petty's duties as county coroner, a position he holds in addition to the sheriff's office.
Court records indicate Sept. 26, 2012 as the date the alleged crime occurred. This is same day Sandra Lopez, 47, of Milton, died of a heroin overdose. John Edgar, of Pearl, has since been charged with drug-induced homicide for allegedly selling Lopez the drug and is set for bench trial June 24.
"I truly don't know what is going on," Petty said.
Petty said he wasn't aware of any issues with the death investigation. He pointed out that he didn't handle the initial call. Petty said a deputy coroner responded.
"When I arrived at the place of death, the body had already been removed," Petty said.
But, in a written statement, Boyd said she notified Petty of her concerns about the case in early December 2013. Boyd claimed Petty failed to have blood samples taken from the body and didn't follow proper embalming protocol.
"This has been an ongoing inquiry by my office," Boyd wrote. "The decision to file a charge was not taken lightly."
The charge was filed a day after Boyd contacted WGEM News about a 10 a.m. news conference Thursday in Pittsfield. But when a reporter arrived, Boyd postponed the news conference. Petty was contacted by WGEM News in reference to the canceled news conference, but he said Thursday he didn't know anything about it.
The charge is a Class 3 felony with a possible penalty of two to five years imprisonment, 30 months probation or conditional discharge, and a fine up to $25,000.
This situation creates a tense dynamic for law enforcement in Pike County. Judge Frank McCartney has filed an order of reassignment. Petty plans to continue to serve as sheriff and coroner while he fights the charge in court, but he said it will be a difficult task.
"The sheriff and state's attorney need to be able to work together and trust each other," Petty said. "I hope this can be resolved quickly."