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State prosecutor suspended, demoted for 2015 gun prank

Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

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Gelof faces 30-day suspension July 1

A Sussex County deputy attorney general has been given a 30-day suspension and reduction in his state salary for his part in a 2015 courthouse prank involving a gun. The chief of security for the Sussex County Courthouse was also suspended and demoted.

In an order issued by the Delaware Supreme Court June 10, the court supported a report by the Delaware Board of Professional Responsibility regarding Deputy Attorney General Adam D. Gelof.

Gelof has worked as a deputy attorney general for 20 years and has been involved in more than 60 trials including capital murder and felony cases. The court noted Gelof is known as a gun deputy because of his experience in prosecuting high-profile and serious violent felony cases involving firearms.

Ironically, it was a gun prank that resulted in disciplinary action against Gelof and against Delbert Garrison, chief of security of Sussex County Superior Court.

In February 2015, Gelof was handling case reviews for defendants in Sussex County Superior Court. Gelof and other deputy attorneys general were working together out of a room in between courtroom appearances. In what court records describe as a way to relieve workplace stress, Deputy Attorney General John Donahue brought in hard-boiled eggs and ate some over Gelof's case files as a joke. The smell of eggs causes Gelof to gag, and his aversion to eggs had been a running joke among court employees, records state.

"Upon respondent's return to the DOJ room, he observed Donahue eating an egg over his files... respondent had a predictable adverse reaction which led to laughter by everyone including respondent in the DOJ room," records state.

Court records gives the following account of what happened next:

When Gelof left the room, he ran into Garrison in the hallway and asked him to go into the room with "guns drawn" and tell the other attorney to "keep the eggs away from his files."

Garrison initially refused-even though Gelof offered him $20 to do the prank-but he soon changed his mind.

"Garrison entered the DOJ room, drew his firearm and pointed it toward Donahue stating: Gelof says keep the eggs away from the files," according to court records.

Others in the room laughed, but unbeknownst to Garrison, a Delaware State Police detective had entered the room before him and was behind the door when Garrison pointed his weapon into the room. The detective only saw a gun; he did not hear what Garrison said.

"There was a split second in which [the detective] perceived a threat, but it occurred so quickly that before he could reach for his weapon or react, he heard a chuckle from the people in the room and Garrison backed out of the room and the door closed," records state.

Although the detective quickly realized it was a joke, he emailed the deputy court administrator for Sussex County Superior Court the next day and told her about the incident.

"This obviously alarmed me and I began to react by attempting to get to my weapon. Before I drew my weapon there was a chuckle in the room and the door closed... My concern is that had I been in a different position to draw my weapon it is quite possible I would have fired my weapon... My intent is to make someone aware because I feel that the action demonstrated extremely poor judgement with regards to the handling of a firearm in the courthouse," records state. The administrator then contacted Superior Court Judge Richard F. Stokes, who met with Garrison and relieved him of his firearm. Two days later, Garrison was placed on administrative leave and escorted from the courthouse. Garrison returned to work in March; he was demoted from chief of security to court security I with a reduction in pay.

About a week later, Gelof was indefinitely suspended. He returned to work April 27, 2015, after serving a two-month paid suspension. He was demoted from deputy attorney general level 5, unit head 2, to an entry-level position he last held 18 years ago. His 12-step demotion carried a 20 percent pay cut, records state. Gelof was put on a probationary period of a year and not allowed to prosecute felony cases until approved by a supervisor and Attorney General Matt Denn.

Gelof is also suspended for 30 days starting July 1.

"Respondent was a seasoned prosecutor and former 'gun deputy' and should have been aware of the potential risks of pointing a loaded firearm at an individual in a courthouse, particularly in a climate where the security of the public, judges, court personnel and lawyers has been an issue following a fatal shooting in the New Castle County Courthouse in 2013," the court wrote. "Respondent's disregard of the risk of harm to others was reckless."

During the investigation, Garrison told officials that his gun had a loaded clip but there was no live round in the chamber.

He said without his finger on the trigger and without a round in the chamber, he believed his conduct in the prank was fully safe, records state.

Court officials disagree and took issue with more than 100 hours and the resources taken to review the case.

"Respondent's practical joke could have had very serious consequences for the individuals in the DOJ room that day as well as others in the courthouse. However, the panel does recognize that respondent has taken responsibility for his actions, accepted the professional consequences and apologized to all impacted by his actions," the court concluded.

GELOF HAS WORKED AS A DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR 20 YEARS AND HAS BEEN INVOLVED IN MORE THAN 60 TRIALS INCLUDING CAPITAL MURDER AND FELONY CASES.



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Original Publication Date: June 17, 2016



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