Sheriff candidates discuss the issues

Published 10:53 am Friday, October 7, 2011

COURTLAND—Southampton County Sheriff candidates Dave Holland and Jack Stutts differ on the community’s perception of the department.

Holland, a former assistant commander of personnel for the Fairfax Police Department, claims residents don’t trust the sheriff’s department. Stutts, the chief deputy who has been with the department for 30 years, says the office has an “excellent relationship” with the community.

The candidates agree that neither would hire a relative if elected to the four-year seat on Nov. 8.

Holland, an independent, and Stutts, a Democrat, squared off during a Wednesday evening candidate forum sponsored by The Tidewater News at Southampton High School. Independent candidate Brian Marvel, a Franklin police officer, did not attend due to a prior commitment.

Sheriff Vernie Francis Jr. is not seeking an eighth term. The job pays $85,000 annually.

Holland spoke about stepping up patrols where gangs and drugs have a presence in the community.

“First, we have to admit there is a gang problem,” said the director of Southside Community Corrections and Pretrial Services in Emporia. “I see places where gang graffiti is left up on abandoned buildings. We have to take it down and get out in front of it.”

Stutts, a Franklin High School graduate who came up through the ranks of the sheriff’s office, said the department has sent three officers to school to target gangs.

“Every time (we hear about possible gang activity), we approach the schools and have acted quickly,” he said. “We target locations where they live. We have to make it a disadvantage to be a gang member in Southampton County.”

Holland, whose police career spans 35 years including 21 years with Fairfax police, said while campaigning for three hours at Southampton Meadows Mobile Home Park, residents told him they don’t see deputies on patrol.

“It’s as if the deputies are afraid,” he said about going to the trailer park on Route 258, which is notorious for drugs, robberies and shootings, including the Oct. 7, 2010, murder of resident Darrin Lee, 28.

“I don’t believe they are doing a good job,” Holland said. “When I’m cutting my grass and I wave, they look at me like I’m a villain. The community doesn’t trust the sheriff’s department. We have to build up that trust.”

Stutts responded, saying deputies are not afraid to go anywhere in Southampton County.

“It would be wonderful to put 50 officers (in the field), but the state only allows one per every 1,500 (residents),” he said. “I think they do a wonderful job.”

When it comes to their top priority, Holland said it’s public safety, and Stutts said the economy.

“We have to deal with that, but in the long term, it will turn around and with that will be growth,” Stutts said.

Holland also suggested using jail guards as patrol officers.

“The department is a good department, but it’s not utilizing all of its resources,” he said.

Stutts said he doesn’t believe cross-training would work.

“We have to have deputies in the jail,” he said. “We work with what we have.”

Franklin police officer Brian Marvel of Drewryville is also running as an Independent

Holland has served as director of Southside Community Corrections and Pretrial Services in Emporia since May 2002. He administers the Community Corrections and Pretrial Services programs for three counties and one city.

Holland has more than 35 years of law enforcement experience, including 21 years in management. He is a former U.S. Air Force Security Police Officer who worked for Fairfax Police for 21 years.