Retiring three-term Sheriff Van Duncan is preparing to leave office as a popular leader credited with stabilizing the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department following the tenure of former sheriff Bobby Medford, who is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence for corruption and extortion.
Upon announcing that he wouldn’t seek a fourth term, Duncan endorsed Capt. Randy Smart as his successor, citing Smart’s understanding of “this agency and its guiding principles.”
Smart’s opponents in the Democratic primary include three law enforcement professionals with ties to the Asheville Police Department: current APD Sgt. Quentin Miller and retired officers R. Daryl Fisher and Rondell Lance.The fifth candidate, Chris Winslow, gained much of his policing experience with agencies in Rutherford County, but finished his policing career as a detective with Buncombe sheriff’s office.
Going into the primary, many voters are looking for someone they can trust in maintaining their safety. The recent release of leaked police video that shows a former Asheville Police officer beating a city resident, the candidates say, has shaken public confidence in officers’ professionalism and made rebuilding trust a priority, although they also say the sheriff’s office has maintained a reputation for professionalism. Other issues candidates noted include the law enforcement implications of the opioid addiction and overdose crisis, managing the county jail, support for victims of crime and community policing strategies.
The successful Democratic candidate will face Republican Shad Higgins and Libertarian Tracey Debruhl in the general election.
Click on the name of a candidate to jump down to their responses:
Experience: Former captain in Asheville Police Department; former chair criminal justice department at AB Tech
Endorsements: Black Mountain Alderman Jeremie Konegni, Vice President of the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods Alan Escovitz, Ph.D., Equal Rights Amendment advocate Ellen Perry, and Nicole Shumate from Paws for Veterans, former Asheville City Council member Cecil Bothwell
What qualities should a good sheriff have? And how do you demonstrate them? A good sheriff should display character and integrity. To demonstrate these requires truthfulness and open communication. A good sheriff must model the way by appropriate conduct and desired work ethic. A good sheriff must have the knowledge, training and education to develop 21st-century policies and procedures. I have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in public affairs. I have developed policies. A good sheriff has to possess executive-level experience to make difficult personnel decisions. I have been second in command at the second-largest law enforcement agency in WNC. I have made those decisions.
How would you rate the relationships between the Sheriff’s Department and the Latino, African-American and other minority communities it serves? How would you foster those relationships? We can always improve and need to include our LGBTQ community, too. To foster better relationships, I want to increase the diversity and inclusion of the command staff and the leadership of the sheriff’s office. This will show the communities that our leadership mirrors the makeup of our communities. They will see people who look like them. In turn, this mirroring should also aid us in the recruitment of diverse candidates. I have been recruiting and have commitments to change the face of the sheriff’s office. We have to meet our minority communities where they live to foster better relationships.
How can the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department responsibly address the opioid epidemic? I recommend a three-prong process. Prevention: Utilize families, public schools and community resources to educate youths on the dangers of drug use. Includes the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program. (Info @ http://www.addictionpolicy.org/single-post/2017/02/07/LEAD). Treatment: Partner with treatment facilities, counselors, recovery groups and support groups to assist those suffering from addiction to get the help they need. We will involve our Detention Center detainees as well. Includes Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI) program (Info @ http://paariusa.org/). Enforcement: Investigation of those profiting from the sale of controlled substances. Includes the N.C. Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention (STOP) Act.
Local law enforcement agencies can enter into 287(g) agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. These agreements allow local law enforcement to partner with ICE on enforcing immigration law. Would you approve of such an agreement? Why or why not? As sheriff, I will ensure the people of Buncombe County know that being undocumented is NOT a crime in North Carolina. The sheriff’s office will not seek to know the immigration status of anyone we encounter. It is not a federal requirement that sheriff’s offices enter into a 287(g) agreement with ICE, so I as sheriff will not seek such a partnership. Any undocumented immigrant who comes into the Detention Center from any agency will be processed as any detainee would. What this means is that anyone entering our Detention Center will be treated equally, fairly and with due process.
Experience: Former sergeant in Asheville Police Department; president of Fraternal Order of Police
Endorsements: “I have had the opportunity to meet many people in our county that support me. They are not big-name politicians or famous people but everyday hardworking families.”
What qualities should a good sheriff have? And how do you demonstrate them? A good sheriff should have the courage to hold himself and his deputies accountable for their actions and uphold the Constitution and community and agency he serves. The sheriff should also never betray the badge, his integrity or charter and never betray the public trust. A sheriff should not micromanage the employees but try to control the environment around the employees so they can flourish as professional law enforcement/peace officers. We have to work and make an exhaustive and consistent effort to keep the job from overwhelming deputies. We also must work with communities to make a difference together.
How would you rate the relationships between the Sheriff’s Department and the Latino, African-American and other minority communities it serves? How would you foster those relationships? As in any relationship, there must be continued interaction and dialogue to assure understanding and expectations. The diverse community in Buncombe County offers a great opportunity to learn how to work together to achieve safe and effective communities. There must be continued meetings with diverse communities and the sheriff’s office but also an effort to bring diverse families together with other diverse families. Respect for each other must be the foundation to which we can dwell together in harmony. My involvement in youth programs over 20 years has provided the opportunity to see diverse people come to together for the common good.
How can Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department responsibly address the opioid epidemic? The opioid problem in Buncombe County has a twofold objective. The addiction and addict must be addressed mainly by lawmakers and doctors and addiction specialists. When addicts are incarcerated, we should use that as an opportunity to provide information and services that can help begin recovery. We must be vigilant in our efforts to work with social networks that deal with such help. Along with the addiction come drug houses that sell narcotics as well as crimes associated with addiction. We must assure our communities are safe and that drug houses and sells are interrupted.
Local law enforcement agencies can enter into 287(g) agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. These agreements allow local law enforcement to partner with ICE on enforcing immigration law. Would you approve of such an agreement? Why or Why not? I would not enter into the 287(g) agreement. The current condition in our community does not support any need for local law enforcement to take on the role as immigration enforcement officers. The current law and policies of the Buncombe County sheriff’s office are sufficient in providing the safety and security of our county. All persons encountered by my sheriff’s deputies will be treated the same with investigative and professional standards expected by our citizens. Unbiased enforcement and treatment of our community are essential to provide a productive community.
Experience: Sergeant in Asheville Police Department
Endorsements: Former state representative and county commissioner Patsy Keever, former county commissioner Carol Peterson, former Asheville mayor Leni Sitnick, Asheville City Council member Keith Young, Asheville City Council member Sheneika Smith, Asheville City Council member Brian Haynes, former chair of Asheville City Schools Board of Education Jacquelyn Hallum, Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger
What qualities should a good sheriff have? And how do you demonstrate them? I’m proud of my work in the community and I see and encounter many friends and familiar faces while wearing the uniform. If an officer cannot say, “Hey, how are you doing today?” without invoking distrust or a fear response from a community member, then we have failed the community. Just as society urges its citizens to respect law enforcement, law enforcement must respect all of its citizens. We must move from the mindset of a warrior to the mindset of a guardian, from intimidator to protector, from us versus them to a community of WE!
How would you rate the relationships between the Sheriff’s Department and the Latino, African-American and other minority communities it serves? How would you foster those relationships? Fostering relationships in the community is vital. During my 24 years at the APD, I initiating a street ministry and midnight basketball program for at-risk youths. I also led a job training program for unemployed community members and ran a summer camp for at-risk youths for nearly a decade. I’m proud of the awards I have received for this work. Solving the school-to-prison pipeline won’t happen overnight, and I can’t do it alone. But I will work every day across Buncombe County to help out our youths who are in need.
How can the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department responsibly address the opioid epidemic? As sheriff, I will convene a series of community forums across Buncombe County to discuss how we can work to mitigate this public health crisis. Law enforcement can’t solve this problem alone, and I think it’s important to frame the opioid epidemic as a public health crisis. First and foremost, we have to end the stigma surrounding people in treatment and recovery. Our Drug Treatment Court is a part of the solution. Thank you to our Buncombe County commissioners for suing the drug manufacturers who are dumping pills in our communities, which is helping to fuel this epidemic.
Local law enforcement agencies can enter into 287(g) agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. These agreements allow local law enforcement to partner with ICE on enforcing immigration law. Would you approve of such an agreement? Why or why not? Let me be absolutely clear on this – I will not sign a 287(g) agreement with ICE. If folks are picked up in Buncombe or Henderson County by ICE, they are sent to Fort Stewart in rural south Georgia. That’s a long way from here and makes it difficult for family members to see their loved ones and offer support during detention. The fact that they can be detained without counsel or held indefinitely, I strongly disagree with. Let me also say I support the DREAMers. We’re better off because we have these brave young folks contributing to our nation.
Experience: Captain in Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office
Endorsements: Sheriff Van Duncan, Clerk of Superior Court Steven Cogburn
What qualities should a good sheriff have and how do you demonstrate them? A sheriff must have the training, knowledge and experience to lead the men and women at the sheriff’s office. I have proven my leadership abilities as a member of Sheriff Duncan’s command staff and in my 25 years of service at our sheriff’s office. I am the only candidate that has spent his entire career at our sheriff’s office. Your sheriff must have intimate knowledge of the operation of the Detention Center, court security, civil process service and enforcement duties. I will ensure a seamless transition of leadership to maintain stability of the services the citizens have come to expect from their sheriff’s office.
How would you rate the relationships between the Sheriff’s Department and the Latino, African-American and other minority communities it serves? Over the past 12 years, our sheriff’s office has worked very hard to build a strong relationship with all facets of our community and hold ourselves accountable to those we serve. One of our sheriff’s office’s core principles is accountability and must always be a priority. Our sheriff is elected by the citizens of this county and must be held accountable by them. Accountability and transparency are paramount to the citizens we serve at our sheriff’s office. Our sheriff’s office has built strong relationships with the diverse communities that make up Buncombe County, and I look forward to continuing to maintain and strengthen those relationships.
How can the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department address the opioid epidemic? Our sheriff’s office has been working with community partners on the opioid epidemic. We have assembled specialized investigators to identify and target drug traffickers that are responsible for bringing these deadly drugs into our community. The office is committed to saving lives and helping get addicts into a recovery program. All deputies have been trained to administer Narcan to prevent overdose deaths. We must continue to collaborate with health care professionals to discuss what is working and what actions are needed. Openly discussing this crisis and removing the stigma that addicts feel about seeking assistance is paramount. Prevention and public education on possible alternatives to opioids must take place.
Local law enforcement agencies can enter into 287(g) agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. These agreements allow local law enforcement to partner with ICE on enforcing immigration law. Would you approve of such an agreement? Why or why not? Our sheriff’s office has never entered into such an agreement and would not under my tenure as your sheriff. Immigration enforcement falls strictly under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and not our sheriff’s office. The safety and well-being of all of the people living in Buncombe County have been and will continue to be my primary concern. Our sheriff’s office has built a strong relationship and values that relationship with our Latino community. Our sheriff’s office has no interest in participating the disruption and separation of families here in Buncombe County.
Experience: Former narcotics detective with the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office
Endorsements: “I have not sought out or asked for public endorsements. … Voters should base their decision on a candidate’s platform, character, integrity, professionalism and community service.”
What qualities should a good sheriff have? And how do you demonstrate them? A sheriff should be professional, honest, a leader, team player, partnering with multiple agencies to benefit the department and the community. I have worked cases with federal, state and local agencies. I have been the agent in charge supervising different people from various agencies. When testifying in court, I have shown the ability to be honest even when it resulted in the loss of the case. As a fireman, I have been the incident commander on many large fires and have worked on the lowest level to help while still commanding them.
How would you rate the relationships between the Sheriff’s Department and the Latino, African-American and other minority communities it serves? How would you foster those relationships? The sheriff’s office does a good job with their relationship with the different minority communities in the county. That does not mean there is no room for improvement. I plan to have people from the community ride along with officers to see what an officer goes through on shift, giving them the opportunity for conversations about what it’s like to be in their place when they encounter an officer or are followed by one. This allows for friendly dialogue, helping gain the mutual respect that both sides deserve. Only by having open and truthful conversations can change come about.
How can the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department responsibly address the opioid epidemic? The sheriff’s office needs to be more aggressive against drug dealers. I would have PAARI (Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative) set up the program for free in Buncombe County, where a law enforcement agency partners with drug addicts who request help, all the while treating them as a human being (with no judgment or bias), the same way we would want ourselves to be treated. We need to help the family members who are watching their loved ones go through their addiction and sometimes watching them overdose. Offer an information brochure on help for the family.
Local law enforcement agencies can enter into 287(g) agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. These agreements allow local law enforcement to partner with ICE on enforcing immigration law. Would you approve of such an agreement? Why or why not? I would not approve of a 287(g) agreement. The sheriff’s N0. 1 job is to serve and protect everyone that lives in the county, no matter who they are or where they are from. Much of the immigrant population in the county has a great distrust of law enforcement, and it’s a big hurdle to overcome. There needs to be an outreach to our immigrants. Deputies need to show them that we are here to help and not pass judgment, harass, or give them tickets. Law enforcement must be accessible when called upon and to protect them when needed.