I have been advised by good media friends that perhaps I need to sit back and let the new sheriff have a few weeks/months/years (take your pick) to get into office, get his feel for things and make some necessary and long-overdue changes for the Richmond County Sheriff’s Department, and the way they enforce the law and investigate crimes.
There have been positive announcements, to be sure. For the concept of raising money for charities while celebrating his victory with an Inaugural Ball, more power to him. The addition of Captain Bill Probus to his leadership team, and the promotion of his former political opponent, Captain Scott Peebles, to major in charge of criminal investigations, brilliant. Not a single person I know in his inner circle of advisors and high-profile department members, from Chief Deputy Pat Clayton to Colonel Robert Partain to Lt. Calvin Chew is anything but a nice guy and a class act. Good moves one and all.
Some (including myself) have questioned the need for moving the worthy Partain into an office (the officer in charge of administration) so ablely filled for years by Colonel Gary Powell, but hey, the new sheriff gets to do what he wants to do, and, at least in that case, it seems the replacement is admired and experienced in his own right.
As much as I try to get in on the enthusiasm I hear from some of these community cheerleaders on what a great new day it is, my optimism gets hit by a few real stinkbombs the new sheriff has dropped as he assumes his throne.
A few years back I was doing a feature story on a real battle-scarred hero of the department, a man whose story of near death at the hands of a pack of brutal criminals shocked this city to its core, and whose story of survival, recovery and new purpose inspired us like few ever have. His name was Deputy David James.
He was attacked on a rainy afternoon in 1990 by a gang of teen thugs, for no apparent reason other than their obvious distaste for authority. Shot from behind five times, losing an eye and a kidney in the process and left for dead, by all accounts Deputy James should have been finished right there. Somehow he was able to radio for help before losing consciousness, and he was saved by his fellow public safety workers with barely enough blood in his body to keep a toddler alive. Many thought he would not survive to see another sunrise. But they were wrong.
Not only did David James rehab himself, he became a valuable member of the law enforcement training center as a shooting instructor and counselor. In the 20 years he has been at that position, I have never heard anything but praise and delight concerning his work. A few years ago, when a number of us were assisting in a benefit for another officer who had been critically wounded on duty, Investigator Greg Margher, then Sheriff Ronnie Strength said, “It would be a cold day in hell” before he would see anyone suggest that James be shuffled off or retired. “He is capable, and I will be damned if I will let anyone suggest that he be run off…” he told me.
Well, as we said, there is a new sheriff in town, and Deputy James’ days at the training center are over. He has been moved to a desk job, and while he has not said one word to me about it, his co-workers are beyond disgusted.
Three of them have contacted me in the last two hours, using email and cell phones belonging to other people, because they have all been told point blank that if anyone in the office is caught discussing departmental business with anyone in the media (“especially Austin Rhodes”) without proper clearance, there will be hell to pay.
This story came to me very late Tuesday, and I am already behind deadline, so let me just say this: Those of you who feel you need to let the media or others know of problems or violations within the department, please contact the trusted media of your choosing, just don’t do it on county time or using county equipment or email.
There are other stories I am developing, including the very odd choices of two known problem officers (Investigators Shane McDaniel and Cheryl Dorsey) as deputy public information officers, a reported 60k new Tahoe for the sheriff to drive on his first day on the job, and the complete revamping of the media relations policies that made both Sheriff Richard Roundtree and Major Scott Peebles media stars long before they ever ran for office.
They have been in place and have worked beautifully for years, so why change them now?
Stay tuned. It is going to be an interesting new day in Augusta. You Might Also Like:
Roundtree’s Bizarre First Week
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