Alamance County voters will weigh in this year on who should be the county’s sheriff for the next four years.
Incumbent Republican sheriff Terry S. Johnson faces his first re-election challenger since 2010, when he defeated Democrat Ron Parrish, who was a former top assistant to Johnson and who now serves as Gibsonville’s police chief. Johnson won that race handily, beating Parrish by almost 10,000 votes, 25,268 (61.45 percent) to 15,850 (38.55 percent), based on Election Night results.
Johnson was first elected in 2002 after a 30-year career with the State Bureau of Investigation. He is touting that experience along with his 20-year tenure as the county’s top lawman in his race with Kelly T. White.
Democrat White points to his own experience of “24+ years in law enforcement managing and commanding various agencies and operations.” White, who serves as the deputy chief of campus police at Winston-Salem State University, says he is “well experienced to oversee [the sheriff’s department]. My experience ranges from narcotics investigator for an agency in Eastern NC, reforming the area and adjoining cities to leading two NC agencies as interim Chief of Police.”
The Alamance News submitted questionnaires to both candidates, who were asked to provide their responses to a number of policy questions, as well as their ideas for improving law enforcement at the state level. Each was also asked three questions specific to his own candidacy or experience.
In several cases, White demurs, saying he needs more information. For instance, with respect to whether county funding of the sheriff’s office is “sufficient,” White says, “I am unable to respond to the question without full knowledge of current operating budget, which would need to be reviewed to provide knowledgeable response.” Johnson says yes, adding “we must remain competitive with surrounding law enforcement agencies in the job market.
Asked whether they would support a renewal of the current county contracts that rent jail space to two federal agencies –Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Marshals Service – Johnson supports both, while White is opposed to renewing the ICE contract. The newspaper also sought an explanation of how the candidate would propose to replace the millions of dollars currently received by the county if one or both contracts were to be terminated.
White says, “Current budget needs review for knowledgeable response. 287g program breeds uncomfortable environment. I would refocus efforts on rebuilding connection with community activities and law enforcement officers.”
Both men agree that current salaries and benefits are not adequate to attract and retain the best and brightest employees.
Both also say diversity within the sheriff’s office is a desirable goal, and both would not distinguish between whether experience or diversity is the more important consideration in hiring, with each saying both are important.
The candidates appear to differ on the impact of cashless bonds, which a superior court judge agreed to institute several years ago. Johnson says the policy needs to be revisited. “We are seeing the crime rate go up and seeing more repeat offenders that are currently out on earlier charges re-offend. The repeat offenders are endangering our citizens and costing our taxpayers millions of dollars.”
White, on the other hand, says, “People with minor crimes are being held longer than they should be because they cannot afford bail, which results in more manpower being utilized in detention centers.”
Both men support the use of body cameras for front-line officers. Johnson says, “Body cameras and information storage are very costly. However, it could save money if lawsuits are filed. This is being considered,” the incumbent says, by his office. He also noted, “We currently have video cameras in all of our patrol vehicles.”
White says, “Body cameras breed accountability and transparency. This tool helps to keep first responders safe, make the community safer, and holds everyone accountable.”
Should marijuana be legalized?
Marijuana policy divides the two. The newspaper asked their position on potential legalization in North Carolina.
Says Johnson, “I disagree with marijuana being legalized. Having been an agent with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and having to work in drug traffic in an undercover capacity, I saw that marijuana use was a ‘gateway drug’ to more dangerous drugs ruining our society and costing many human lives.”
White says, “I take no position. As long as it’s illegal to possess, it’s my responsibility to uphold the law. As the laws change, I will adjust accordingly.”
Are new restrictions on guns needed?
On gun restrictions, both say they do not favor any additional restrictions on handgun ownership. Asked specifically about a potential ban on assault-style weapons, minimum age for gun purchases, or expanding gun permit laws to apply to weapons beyond handguns, Johnson voices opposition; White does not respond directly to any of the three issues.
Asked whether the sheriff’s office should cooperate with federal immigration enforcement, Johnson supports the concept, while White doesn’t commit. “I take no position,” he says. “It is the federal government’s responsibility to enforce, manage immigration laws.”
Questions specifically to Johnson
The newspaper asked Johnson specifically about persistent allegations – first in a federal lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice and later by protester Rev. Gregory Drumwright – that Johnson and his officers discriminate against Hispanics, blacks, or both.
The incumbent was direct in denying the allegation: “What is being said is just a false narrative. Discrimination in this agency will not be tolerated. Regardless of color, race or nationality, this office will continue to vigorously enforce laws of this nation. We are all children of God, should be treated equally and will be by this agency.”
He makes much the same case in a question about “what issues are most misunderstood or misrepresented about you, your campaign platform, or record.” Says Johnson, “Having been in law enforcement for over 50 years, never has there been a complaint about myself being a racist, until I became Sheriff and got into the 287g Program. The far left is using race as tool to label me and our Sheriffs’ Office with false narratives.”
He also labels it “a false narrative” that taxpayers have had to spend “a lot of money over the years defending your actions and those of your deputies and staff from charges of abuse, excessive use of force, disparate (or discriminatory) treatment, negligence or harsh treatment.”
Johnson also defends his officers’ use of pepper spray to disperse the crowd at the Historic Court House on October 31, 2020, saying it was “absolutely” necessary.
Questions specifically to White
Meanwhile, White was asked whether he would have allowed Rev. Gregory Drumwright and his supporters to have continued their protest even if he had known they were violating their permit and county policy by the presence of a gas-powered generator on courthouse grounds.
White responds, “There are de-escalation techniques that are used in contentious situations. I am trained to ensure that every citizen is treated fairly and humanely as long as there is no threat of loss of life. It is the sheriff’s responsibility to make sure everyone’s First Amendment rights are protected.”
In responding to the question about issues misunderstood or misrepresented, White says, “Some have associated me with Rev. Gregory Drumwright, but I have no such association, neither personal nor business with him.”
For the full list of the questions, and the candidates responses, click HERE.
Biographical information for the two candidates is here: https://alamancenews.com/meet-the-candidates-for-alamance-county-sheriff/
The candidate-specific questions and responses are printed below:
TO TERRY S. JOHNSON:
QUESTION #1: Over the past five to 10 years, the department has been accused of racial profiling, both by the U.S. Department of Justice and by various protesters, such as Rev. Gregory Drumwright, who has insisted that your department discriminates against people of color – either Hispanics, blacks, or both. How do you respond to these persistent critics of you and your department that you are not treating all citizens fairly and equally?
JOHNSON RESPONSE: What is being said is just a false narrative. Discrimination in this agency will not be tolerated. Regardless of color, race or nationality, this office will continue to vigorously enforce laws of this nation. We are all children of God, should be treated equally and will be by this agency.
QUESTION #2: In hindsight, are there less-offensive methods your officers could have, and should have, used on October 31, 2020 that did not involve the use of pepper spray to disperse the crowd at the Historic Court House?
JOHNSON RESPONSE: Absolutely not. We tried talking to the protesters, we gave ample warnings, which all failed. When a female officer got assaulted and was hurt, pepper spray was deployed as a measure for crowd control to disperse the disrespectful, unruly lawless crowd.
QUESTION #3: The taxpayers of Alamance County have had to spend a lot of money over the years defending your actions and those of your deputies and staff from charges of abuse, excessive use of force, disparate (or discriminatory) treatment, negligence or harsh treatment.Why cannot your officers simply follow the law – and save taxpayers from having to pay out tens of thousands of dollars for attorneys’ fees, fines, and compensation to victims?
JOHNSON RESPONSE: This is a false narrative. The DOJ lost. Our officers follow the law. Anyone can sue. My officers are well trained. Travelers Insurance agreed to settle because it was less costly for them rather than going to court. A clause in the agreement showed “No Wrong Doing by the ACSO”.
TO KELLY T. WHITE:
QUESTION #1: The Alamance County sheriff’s office is one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the county. Yet you have worked primarily on the much smaller staffs of various college campuses, and even then not as chief, but merely as an assistant. How can you assure the public that you are experienced in general law enforcement enough to oversee the Alamance County sheriff’s office?
WHITE RESPONSE: With my 24+ years in law enforcement managing and commanding various agencies and operations, I am well experienced to oversee ACSD. My experience ranges from narcotics investigator for an agency in Eastern NC, reforming the area & adjoining cities to leading two NC agencies as interim Chief of Police.
QUESTION #2: How can Alamance County’s public be assured that you will uphold the law and protect the Confederate monument on the north side of the Historic Court House?
WHITE RESPONSE: The county commissioners and the state of North Carolina determine the placement of monuments. My job is to uphold the law and the safety of the people of Alamance is the priority.
QUESTION #3: If you had been sheriff in 2020, would you have allowed Rev. Gregory Drumwright and his supporters to have continued their October 31 protest at the Historic Court House, if you knew they were violating their permit and county policy by the presence of a gas-powered generator on courthouse grounds?
WHITE RESPONSE: There are de-escalation techniques that are used in contentious situations. I am trained to ensure that every citizen is treated fairly and humanely as long as there is no threat of loss of life. It is the sheriff’s responsibility to make sure everyone’s First Amendment rights are protected.