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Police official criticizes Lee County Sheriff

Department's brass backs Varga's rival

Published: Monday, Feb. 17, 2014 10:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Feb. 17, 2014 10:27 a.m. CDT
John Varga

DIXON – The second-in-command at the Dixon Police Department today accused Lee County Sheriff John Varga of "a series of critical mistakes" in major investigations. 

In a letter to the editor to Sauk Valley Media, Dixon police Lt. Brad Sibley said Varga impeded the investigation into the 1983 murder of Gary D. Dawson of Peoria, whose body was found in Lee County.

Last February, Steven Watts, 56, of Berryville, Ark., was arrested on a first-degree murder charge in Arkansas. When the Lee County state's attorney's office sought Watts' arrest warrant, it also asked the court to seal the case, and it got an order to that effect. Officials wanted the records kept secret to avoid alerting other suspects.

After Watts was arrested in Arkansas, though, Sheriff John Varga issued a news release to Arkansas media, which went against the plan to keep the case under wraps, State's Attorney Anna Sacco-Miller said last year. 

Sibley said Varga's release of information hurt the investigation. 

[S]heriff Varga might as well have called the other murder suspects and told them to run and hide! Why would a law enforcement administrator do such a thing?" Sibley wrote.

"Any first-year officer with investigative training knows when you have multiple suspects, you never release information about the case. 'Sealing' a case is a decision that is reached between the investigating agency and the State's Attorney and an order issued by a judge."

Sibley supports Varga's opponent, John Simonton, a Dixon police officer, in the March 18 Republican primary. 

Varga said Sibley's letter didn't surprise him. 

"This is how the whole election has been going," Varga said. "People make things up."

He said the state's attorney's office never let his department know about the developments in the Watts case, including the sealing of the court records and the lowering of Watts' bond. Last year's news release, he said, didn't cause any problems in the case. 

Varga also took exception to Watts' release to Arkansas in September. That was after the Lee County Court reduced his bond to $100,000; it had originally been $5 million. 

Watts, he said, has minimal restrictions "on how we're supposed to keep track of him."

"Unbeknownst to myself and my detectives, they lowered the bond," Varga said. 

In an interview with Sauk Valley Media last week, Watts' father, Wilburn, confirmed that his son was living on his farm. 

Sacco-Miller was sick Monday and wasn't available for an interview. 

Dixon Police Chief Danny Langloss said he didn't disagree with anything in Sibley's letter. 

"I'm 100 percent behind John Simonton and the things he plans to do if he wins the office," Langloss said. "I think there are many opportunities for partnerships that we have not been able to make."

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