The battle for the badge

When running for public office, it helps to have a catchy name. With so many entries on a crowded primary ballot, an easy-to-remember moniker could tip the balance in a candidate’s favor. In this year’s primary, two Democrats are vying for the right to face off against Republican Sheriff Bobby Medford.

Trouble is, both Mike Ruby and James A. Grant boast ballot-friendly names — one a gemstone, the other a former U.S. president. And while rock hounds and history buffs may already have their minds made up, where does that leave the rest of us?

To help undecided voters get a better grip on just who these men are, Mountain Xpress posed a series of questions to both candidates. Reading their responses may help you step into the voting booth on Sept. 10 armed with something more substantial than an image of a ring or a general.

Biographical info

James A. Grant

Law-enforcement experience: four years as a full-time deputy and seven years as a part-time deputy reserve officer with the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department.

Education: basic law-enforcement certification, A-B Tech (1992) plus continued law-enforcement course work; fellow, Institute of Political Leadership, UNC-Wilmington (2001).

Work experience: Grant & Associates Marketing Consultants (1976-present); truck driver, Biltmore Oil Company (1980-85); owner of Grant’s Oil Company, Grant’s Auto Sales and Grant’s Tank Cleaning Service (1985-1993); professional motor-coach driver, Young Transportation (1996-present).

Of note: Since 1995, Grant has been the 28th Judicial District community-service coordinator for the N.C. Department of Crime and Public Safety.

Mike Ruby

Law-enforcement experience: 20 years as a full-time deputy with the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department; division commander under three sheriffs. Currently a reserve deputy with the Madison County Sheriff’s Department.

Education: A-B Tech, basic law enforcement certification (1974) and continued law enforcement coursework; graduate of the North Carolina Justice Academy’s Executive Development program.

Work experience: security director of the Asheville Mall (1996-present).

Of note: Ruby is a graduate of the U.S. Secret Service’s Dignitary Protection School.

Q&A

Mountain Xpress: According to FBI statistics, 26 percent of female homicide victims are murdered by their intimate partners, compared to only 3 percent of males. The Violence Against Women Committee of the Governor’s Crime Commission cited a study that concluded that in North Carolina, 51 percent of female homicide victims were murdered by an intimate partner.

In its final report (issued in 1999), the Governor’s Task Force on Domestic Violence listed as its No. 1 recommendation that “the preferred arrest policy in N.C. should be a pro-arrest policy for domestic-violence incidents,” adding, “The adoption of a pro-arrest policy in all N.C. law-enforcement agencies was considered to be one of the most important recommendations made by the committee.”

Currently, the Sheriff’s Department has no such policy; the decision to arrest is at the officer’s discretion. Will you adopt such a pro-arrest policy?

James Grant: “I believe that policy is a good policy to adopt; I see so much domestic violence. Even stronger than adopting that policy, we need to enforce that policy, because the laws of the land are not strong enough right now. When you get a domestic criminal-trespass charge, it’s not serious enough to keep people in touch with reality about the consequences of their actions.”

Mike Ruby: “Absolutely, I think that a pro-arrest policy in domestic-violence situations must be implemented. It takes the discretion out of the officer’s hands and puts it in the court system, where it should be.”

MX: Are we winning the war on drugs?

JG: “No, we’re not. We’re not winning the war on drugs because people are continuing to violate the laws on drugs, and we can see drug dealers on almost every street corner in the known drug havens committing violent offenses right now. The war on drugs is being lost because, within our own city, we have a Police Department and a substation, and in between that 100- to 200-foot area, you can see people out doing drugs on a daily basis. We are losing the war on drugs.”

MR: “I don’t think we are. In law enforcement, we’ve got to change attitudes sometimes. You look at law enforcement as being on the enforcement side of the war on drugs, but it’s also our part to be involved in the education side of it as well. It’s society as a whole that has to fight this war, not just law enforcement. I’d like to be optimistic about the war on drugs, but no, I don’t think we’re winning. But we can’t give up.”

MX: How are we going to know when we’ve won the war on drugs?

JG: “When people stop coming to court for drug offenses.”

MR: “I don’t know. But you look at statistical data and you look at society and see what they are willing to accept. I’d like to see a drug-free community. One of my top priorities is to fight drugs. We’ll know when the demand for drugs isn’t as high as it is now.”

MX: Can we really expect to spend and arrest our way out of this problem?

JG: “No, we can’t arrest our way out of this problem; we have to educate people. We have to look at the environment in which we live, talk to people and educate them about what’s going on in their neighborhood and get them to change their way of life to reduce recidivism in the jails and in the courts. The public needs to stop and take a look at what’s going on in society and report to us what’s going on. Education is the key, but we have to enforce the laws of the land.”

MR: “We have to have tough enforcement, but that’s not the only thing. It’s an educational process — partnering with the community. We can’t attack drugs just on the back end; we need to do preventive measures.”

MX: Have you ever done a drug considered illegal in the United States?

JG: “When I was a kid, I came up and did something that I was not proud of. When I was coming up, we did marijuana, and that was one time, and I’m not going to say I didn’t do it — I’m not going to lie to you. I’m a human being and I made a mistake, and the mistake that I made is the same mistake that I see other people make, and we’ve got to clean those acts up and change their lives.”

MR: “Never; never one.”

MX: We’re reading more and more reports about roadside vehicle searches, particularly those where a driver is pulled over and the officer asks to search the vehicle. Such searches, without probable cause, can only be done with the expressed consent of the driver. But often when a person does exercise their constitutional right to deny such a search, the driver is detained and a dog is brought on the scene. If the dog registers a hit on the vehicle, the probable cause is established. What is your definition of probable cause?

JG: “I believe probable cause is the reason to suspect that criminal activity is taking place the moment that you see it, or the person’s actions behind the wheel made you to believe that there was something suspicious or something possible going on. … Basically, what we are doing is speculating. Every officer has a different … some officers may do some profiling of different natures. The profiling could come from a lot of different points of view: It could be racial profiling; it could be a suspect profiling [with someone] who looks identical to someone they are looking for.”

MR: “I think you should have probable cause before you ask permission to search that car. And I think, to a certain extent, [practices such as calling in a drug dog in response to a denied search request] may be a violation of people’s rights. Probable cause is information that you would have that leads you to believe that someone may be violating a law. You should have some knowledge that that may be happening, other than the type of car they are driving or what the people look like.”

MX: Would you encourage this practice?

JG: “I don’t encourage that practice; however, we must apprehend criminals in a due and a just manner.”

MR: “As a general rule, I don’t think I would.”

MX: We’re also seeing more and more stories about high-speed pursuits that end tragically, sometimes with the death of innocent bystanders. What’s your philosophy about high-speed pursuits? Should there be limits?

JG: “There should be limits on high-speed pursuits. I don’t like high-speed pursuits; I don’t encourage high-speed pursuits, although I have been engaged in them. Nothing good comes out of high-speed pursuits. There’s too much danger; you endanger the life of yourself and others. I think we have to look at the nature of the crime committed and ask if it warrants high-speed pursuit — armed robbery would justify it.”

MR: “I think there are way too many high-speed pursuits. We are becoming much more densely populated; we don’t have as many open country roads — it’s dangerous. You have to weigh the risks, and that comes with training and with having policies in place. Technology today in law-enforcement investigations make it much easier to follow up on a crime after it has been committed without chasing.”

MX: You’re running as a Democrat, but why Democrat or Republican? What does your party affiliation have to do with law enforcement?

JG: “I’m a people person. I was born into a family that has strong ties to the Democratic Party. It was the thing for people of color to do back years ago. It seemed to be the party that bridged the gap between the haves and the have-nots — I’d like to do the same as sheriff.”

MR: “I’m a Democrat because I believe in their platform, but there’s not a Democrat way or a Republican way for enforcing the law. You are either a good law-enforcement officer or not. But I’d like to think of the Democratic Party as one of service.”

MX: What’s the No. 1 problem facing our community in terms of crime?

JG: “Our No. 1 problem is the murders we’ve had. We’ve had 15 murders in Asheville — that is major.”

MR: “I’m real concerned with the number of homicides. Now I know that murder, as a general rule, is not a crime that you can have a program to prevent; it’s usually a crime of passion. But we can take steps to prevent other crimes, such as burglary, that can lead to homicide — protecting our homes and businesses, for example.”

MX: Describe the people you will serve; in other words, what’s your take on who we are?

JG: “You all are people who are just like me; you’re people who are sometimes differently abled; we may not have, sometimes, the best education. As the sheriff, it’s not my job to judge any of us. I have to see what your objectives are and ask what good we can do for the county.”

MR: “This is one of the most diverse communities; we have all walks of life here. I think it’s important that we serve everybody; I know that sounds cliche, but I think it’s important that the Sheriff’s Department look like the community. We have a large Hispanic community that’s growing here; we have a large Russian community that’s growing as well. It’s important to have those people represented in your department — and not only at entry-level jobs. We need to create an environment where they can come in.”

MX: As the sheriff, if you had a horse, what would you name it?

JG: “Cincinnati; Gen. Ulysses Grant had a horse named Cincinnati and it was a beautiful, tall, black horse. Grant was a warrior and a fighter for America and became president. Some thought of him as a drunkard, but I thought of him as a leader. No matter what state of mind he was in, he led our country to win.”

MR: “Winner.”

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