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Trigg County voters stick with Acree despite controversy in sheriff’s election

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Trigg County Sheriff's Office
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Voters in a western Kentucky county decided a sheriff’s race on Election Day that had been shrouded in controversy over allegations of misconduct by the incumbent.

Trigg County Sheriff Aaron Acree – who was appointed to the position in 2020 – was affirmed by his constituents, beating out four write-in candidates.

The controversy stems from an ongoing Kentucky State Police investigation and a lawsuit alleging Acree illegally suspended and terminated two former Trigg deputies Michelle Keller and Michael Sandbrink – who ran as a write-in – in retaliation for them informing the FBI regarding “actual or suspected” law violations committed by the sheriff. Defense attorneys for Acree have denied these allegations.

Sandbrink and Keller sued Acree this summer over their termination, with the lawsuit mentioning the report to the FBI included “allegations of improper sexual conduct” by Acree with an unnamed female while Acree was on duty and in the sheriff’s office.

Defense attorneys for Acree, the Trigg County Fiscal Court and the Trigg County Sheriff’s Office denied the allegations in an August court filing.

Acree was the only name on the ballot Tuesday, garnering 2,498 votes, more than all of the write-ins combined. Sandbrink was the top vote-getter among the four write-ins, receiving 1,394 votes. Michael Manzanares got 539, David Tomlinson 239 and Ronnie Mazac Jr. 230.

Acree is the second Trigg County sheriff in a row to be investigated by the state. A Kentucky State Police investigation eventually led to former Trigg County sheriff Jason Barnes being convicted in 2021 of a misdemeanor of providing alcohol to a minor and a felony of tampering with a witness.

Barnes was indicted in August 2020 and resigned the same month. Acree was appointed as sheriff shortly after.

In December 2020, a former Trigg County High School student sued Barnes, the fiscal court and other law enforcement officers, alleging that Barnes and officers had groomed and pressured her for sex during her internship at the sheriff’s office. The lawsuit was settled in 2021.

A native of western Kentucky, Operle earned his bachelor's degree in integrated strategic communications from the University of Kentucky in 2014. Operle spent five years working for Paxton Media/The Paducah Sun as a reporter and editor. In addition to his work in the news industry, Operle is a passionate movie lover and concertgoer.
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