By Debby Woodin
Globe Staff Writer
CARTHAGE, Mo. - Jasper County's former third-ranking sheriff's department official forgot to send off a donation to the Salvation Army collected from law enforcement officers and did not use the money for himself, his attorney told a jury Tuesday.
A jury of 10 women, two men and an alternate was selected to hear the misdemeanor stealing charge against Tony Coleman, a former sheriff's department captain.
Coleman was suspended from the department with pay in February when he was charged.
He was fired last month by Interim Sheriff Archie Dunn, who took the helm of the department after Sheriff Bill Pierce stepped down amid an investigation by the state attorney general.
Special Prosecutor Robert George of Lawrence County told the jury in opening statements that he would present witnesses to show that approximately $200 was collected in July 2002 as a donation to the Salvation Army for supplying food and soft drinks to law enforcement officers working the Route 66 Music Festival, a four-day concert festival held in Joplin.
George told jurors that testimony and evidence would show that Coleman did not submit money until October, after other members of the department learned that the donation had not been made and began an investigation. He said Coleman came up with a file marked "Salvation Army" containing $79 - more than 2 1/2 months after the money was collected and after several requests had been made during that time for the money to be submitted.
Coleman's attorney, Bill Fleischaker, told jurors that Coleman, who was in charge of organizing law enforcement coverage of the music festival, had a heavy workload during the time in question and that Coleman was upset that his wife, a deputy, had been demoted for complaints about her being insubordinate during the work at the festival.
Fleischaker said there was "turmoil" within the department because of rivalry amid high-ranking officers jockeying to be Pierce's successor when Pierce retired.
"There's no money missing," he said. "It's a dog-eat-dog atmosphere at the sheriff's department ... He's busy and then this thing blows up with his wife (being disciplined)."
Fleischaker said that Coleman "simply forgot" that the envelope containing the donation was in his desk drawer.
Fellow deputies had launched an investigation based on an officer's complaint that the money had not been submitted. When the sheriff learned of the investigation, he directed officers to speak to Coleman and get an explanation before they asked for charges, according to the attorneys.
Coleman sent a $100 donation to the Salvation Army on Oct. 10, after being questioned about whether he had the money.
The attorneys told jurors that Coleman, Pierce and Coleman's then-rival to be Pierce's successor, Jerry Neil, will all testify during the course of the trial, expected to last at least two more days.
The prosecution's witness list includes 47 people, about half of them law enforcement officers who made donations. George began calling them to the stand after opening arguments late Tuesday afternoon to tally up how much they say they donated.
Before the testimony began, the attorneys spent nearly five hours questioning 34 people from whom the jury was selected.
The attorneys asked the prospective jurors if they had read or heard about Coleman being charged and the sheriff being investigation. All 34 had.
The residents also were asked if they knew Coleman or any of the main witnesses including Pierce and Neil.
One woman said she knew Pierce and Neil. She was not selected to serve on the jury after admitting that she was leaning in a particular direction based on what she already knew about the case.
Testimony will resume this morning in Jasper County Circuit Court at Carthage.
By Debby Woodin