Cecil County Sheriff Election: ‘Team’ Focus in GOP Primary– Chris Sutton Pushes ‘Top Tier Targets’ in War on Drugs
A Cecil Times Special Report
In the 2014 elections for Cecil County Sheriffâalways one of the most hotly contested races in local politicsâthere is a new watchword among the leading candidates in the June Republican primary: âteam.â While past election campaigns have focused on the individual candidate for Sheriff, this year the focus is on the âteamâ of senior officials who would run the law enforcement agency if a particular candidate were elected.
In lengthy interviews with Cecil Times, candidates Chris Sutton and Scott Adams outlined their own and team membersâ credentials, policing philosophies, and plans for Cecil Countyâs prime law enforcement agency. In two articles, their views are exploredâwith Sutton going second in this series after a coin toss determined the order of interview publication.
âTEAM SUTTONââCampaign Motto: âLetâs Make Cecil County Safe Againâ
CHRIS SUTTON, Sheriff: Attended Cecil College, studying criminal justice. Corporal, road supervisor, Cecil County Sheriffâs Department. More than 20 years with the department, former K9 unit officer. Recognized four times by Mothers Against Drunk Driving for arrests of drunk drivers.
KENNETH RUSSELL, Chief Deputy: Studied business management at Cecil College; graduate, Greater Chesapeake Law Enforcement Executive Development School; 26 years law enforcement experience, including 11 years with Cecil County Sheriffâs Department; Sergeant on Cecil County Drug Task force and 16 years drug investigation experience, including undercover work; 6 years supervisory experience; 2004 Deputy of the year award, Maryland Sheriffâs Association; US Army veteran.
TERRY RESSIN, Major, Law Enforcement: B.S. in management, Johns Hopkins University through the Police Executive Leadership program; 28 years law enforcement experience, including 25 years with Baltimore City force, retiring with rank of Lieutenant with Internal Investigations unit; certified training instructor in police issues; Joined Cecil County Sheriffâs agency in 2010, working patrol duties and currently assigned to Criminal Investigations Division.
EUGENE TUER, Major, Corrections/Detention Center: Masters of Education, Corrections, Coppin State College; Bachelorâs degree, University of Baltimore; currently chairs Criminal Justice program at TESST College in Towson; former superintendent of Cecil County Detention center and first administrator of the countyâs former Community Adult Rehabilitation Center program; former work-release director in Toledo, Ohio
ED KOLUCH, Director, Work-Release Programs: Towson University, degree in Sociology; 25 years with Baltimore City Police Department, sergeant with supervisory experience in vice and drug investigations and internal affairs, recipient of the departmentâs bronze star; after retirement, joined Cecil County Sheriffâs agency in Criminal Investigations and later served as Major for Law Enforcement. US Marine Corps veteran.
In making his third run for Cecil County Sheriff, Chris Sutton says âmy philosophy hasnât changedâ but âthe problems have gotten worseâ in the county, especially drug-related crime. This time, he is running as leader of a âteamâ of experienced law enforcement officials, because âyou have to surround yourself with good people.â Like a football coach, he said, he is bringing in âguys with expertise in certain areas that I donât have.â And if he is elected, âweâre ready to go.â
This time, without an incumbent Sheriff to run against since Barry Janney is retiring, itâs a different campaign. âThis campaign is not about bashing what Barry Janney has done,â Sutton said. Even with a new team behind him, it is Suttonâs name on the ballot and citizens will âvote for one person and that person has to be someone they trustâŚthey already know me,â he said. But there will be an added advantage: âYouâre voting for one person but youâre getting the team.â
Fighting drug crime is at the top of Suttonâs priority list. As outlined on his campaign website, Suttonâs key initiative would be creating a âtop-tier targets list of those responsible for the majority of crime in the county.â And that means âgoing after drug dealers.â Sutton plans to âshift resources to create a fugitive apprehension teamâ and he also advocates âcreating closer relationships with local judges in order to hold criminals accountable and keep them off the streets.â
In addition, Sutton says he wants to re-deploy two deputies to patrol âcommunity hot spotsâ and develop relationships with community residents in high crime areas and he also wants the County Council to pass a ânuisance abatement ordinanceâ that he believes will assist deputies in cleaning up neighborhoods. He also advocates hiring some contract workers, including possible retired deputies working without benefits, to assist in monitoring sex offenders who are on the state registry.
A joint Drug Task Force including county deputies, State Police and Elkton town police members is still firmly in place here, despite State Police backing out of some regional task forces in other areas of the Eastern Shore. Sutton and Russell say they plan to assign more county deputies to the task forceâwhich targets high-level drug dealersâto combat drug distribution and there is an added bonus: the prospect of getting drug dealersâ ill-gotten money through asset forfeitures that can be used to support law enforcement efforts.
The greater the Sheriffâs agencyâs participation in the task force, the greater their share of seized assets, they said. And Russell said he has been involved in multiple forfeiture proceedings that have netted substantial funds for police operations so he has the experience to deal with the often time-consuming process.
On the Sutton campaignâs website, Russell observed that âOver the years, my fellow officers and I have asked for more help as we watched first-hand what was happening in this county, but our pleas went unanswered.â
In the current county budget, five new deputies were authorized, although their hiring was delayed by a last-minute budget cut imposed by the Cecil County Council. (Previously, the County Commissioners had refused to hire any additional deputies for over four years.) The new Fiscal 2015 budget proposed by County Executive Tari Moore includes one additional deputyâa cut from the two new deputies requested by retiring Sheriff Janney.
Russell told Cecil Times that he was not specifically blaming the former County Commissioners or the County Council for the rising drug crime problem but said he and other deputies often felt like they were âputting fingers in the dikeâ without sufficient resources to address the problems they face.
âI donât want to throw any stones at the Council people,â Sutton said. âWe can re-allocate resourcesâ and reduce the number of âadministratorsâ in the agency.
One of the reforms Sutton is committed to making is changing the work schedules of deputies, who dislike their current eight-hour schedules and rotating shifts. âWe have to build morale,â Sutton said. He has promised current deputies that if he is elected, as of February, 2015 there will be a new shift schedule. âIâm going to let the guys voteâ to decide if they want 10-hour or 12-hour shifts, Sutton said. The revamped scheduling could help deploy deputies more efficiently with quicker response times, he added.
The department also needs to make more efficient use of technology, Sutton said, citing current laptop computers assigned to most patrol cars that are incompatible with report filing software used in the main office. As a result, he said, deputies canât file their reports electronically while still out in the field on patrol and have to file reports back at headquarters. The county governmentâs information technology department took over all computer-related duties from the Sheriffâs Department about two years ago and Sutton said he would seek grants to offset costs for software upgrades that would have to come out of the Sheriffâs budget.
The Sheriffâs department has one of the more complex budgets of any county agency, with law enforcement, the detention center and a work-release program all under the departmentâs umbrella but with separate fiscal accounting requirements. While the Sheriffâs department has a business manager to deal with many fiscal tracking issues, Sutton said that Tuerâs experience operating the Detention Centerâwhich accounts for about half the agencyâs overall budgetâwould bring a veteran budget expert into the process.
Sutton said he and Tuer have also discussed ways to help make the jail operations and work-release programs more cost-effective, such as taking advantage of tax credit programs that encourage employers to hire inmates on work-releaseâand in turn, the inmates pay fees for room-board-supervision costs that more than offset their expenses at the facility. Right now, Sutton said, there are vacant beds in the work-release unit and getting inmates into jobs would help defray expenses while also giving inmates a chance to develop job skills for their future.
As a three-time political candidate, politics is not a dirty word to Sutton and he said a Sheriff has to know how to deal with the elected officials in the county such as the County Council and County Executive who ultimately hold the purse strings for his agency.
In the past two elections, Sutton ran for Sheriff as a Democrat but lost to Republican Barry Janney in the general elections. Sutton changed his party affiliation to Republican for the 2014 elections, and he said he has been âgreeted with open armsâ by Republicans. âIâm still the same Chris Sutton,â he said, and âmy beliefs havenât changed.â But he said he felt the Democratic Party at the state and national level no longer reflected his views. âI didnât really leave the Democratic Party; the party left me,â he said.
This time, Sutton has raised a smaller campaign warchest so far than he did in his last election run, when he out-spent the usually big-ticket Janney campaign fund. State Election Board records as of January, 2014 show that Sutton raised $39,634 in donations and fundraiser ticket purchases in 2013, plus he had a carryover balance from the previous year of $11,073. After expenses of $37,800 for printing, billboards, yard signs, etc.âincluding payments of over $6,000 to hire a professional writer, Apryl Parcher, for his website and social media accountsâSutton had a cash in the bank balance of $10,510 as of early January, 2014.
(In contrast, state Election Board records show chief rival Scott Adams had raised $31,067 in contributions and fundraiser ticket sales since filing as a candidate last year. After expenses of $25,552, primarily for yard signs, billboards, and printing expenses, Adamsâ campaign fund had a cash balance of $5,544 in January.)
The Republican primary field is crowded this year, with five candidates, although Sutton and Adams are the most visible and well-funded candidates in that race. The primary election is also months earlier this year than in the past, when the primaries were usually held in September, so there is less time to get a candidateâs message out to voters. (In the Democratic primary, there are four candidates seeking that partyâs nomination for Sheriff.)
Sutton says of his rivals that âthey are all good guysâ and pledges that he will run âa clean campaign.â But he attributes a recent court case against him to a disgruntled former friend who he believes is trying to discredit his political candidacy.
In February, a woman filed a motion seeking a temporary âpeace orderâ against Sutton, saying that she was fearful for her safety over comments allegedly made by Sutton in connection with a disputed $10,000 loan made to him in 2007 to assist him in opening his âPampered Petsâ dog grooming business in Elkton. (He sold the business last year in preparation for his run for Sheriff.) The temporary peace order was granted by the visiting judge. However, after a subsequent hearing on a possible permanent protective order, the judge denied the request but had a stern commentary for Sutton.
The temporary peace order process generally involves a low-threshold standard of proof that briefly puts in place a cooling-off period among disputing parties until a full evidentiary hearing can be held. (We sometimes suspect that our diva dog could get a temporary peace order against us for daring to take her to the vet for vaccinations.)
Transcripts of the two proceedings indicate that all involved should have, but didnât, create a written promissory note for the disputed loan. But the judge cautioned Sutton that his choice of words, including his undisputed comments that the woman was âdigging her own graveâ and didnât know âwho she is messing withâ were inappropriate for a law enforcement officer.
The judge said that he hoped he had âstruck fear in the heart of you, Mr. Sutton, Officer Sutton, because you cannot engage in that type of conversation with anybody as a police officer. Itâs inappropriateâŚThat may be fine at the Elks Club bar, but you donât say that to a lady if youâre a police officer. You canât do it. Itâs going to get you in trouble.â
Sutton told Cecil Times that he could not discuss the disputed loan since it is a matter of a separate civil legal action. (In the peace order proceeding, he conceded the money had not been repaid.) On the judgeâs admonition, Sutton said he felt the cited comments were âtaken out of context,â and the case was âpolitically motivated.â But, he added, âI can always take advice, and if a judge offers me advice I will certainly accept it.â
(Suttonâs campaign website is here: “http://www.suttonforsheriff.com” )