Richard Roundtree made history Tuesday – becoming Richmond County’s first black sheriff in the office’s 230 years.
Roundtree defeated his Republican opponent, Freddie Sanders, 49,389 to 28,395, garnering more than 63 percent of votes cast.
Roundtree said the win was more than a political victory – it was a mandate from the people that it was time for change.
“As I accept the fact that I am the sheriff-elect of Richmond County, I offer this office back to all of you, because this office is the office of the people,” he said to the jubilant crowd of supporters gathered at the Legends Club on Washington Road. “I’m going to need your prayers and support because I cannot, I shall not and I will not be able to do this by myself. I will need the help of all of you.”
Sanders conceded the race and thanked his family and friends and called on them to support Roundtree. Sanders then traveled from his headquarters in south Augusta to congratulate the sheriff-elect.
“When the race is over, my sword is going to be sheathed,” he said. “I’ll do anything in the world to help him be the next sheriff.”
Sanders said he had hoped for a different result but had no hard feelings against his opponent and wished Roundtree well. He said he would return to working at his law practice.
“This is a good thing that happened here,” Sanders said. “He ran a good race.”
Roundtree said the victory was the result of a plan that began to form more than six years ago when he was a sergeant investigating violent crimes with the sheriff’s office. That’s when he said he saw the correlation between education and the rate of violent crime in Augusta.
“We have been confident for the last few weeks,” he said. “That is because of the work we put in. We didn’t take a day off.”
Roundtree said he will have to move quickly to put together a transition team. He will have to report to a four-week sheriff training course in Forsyth, Ga., on Sunday night. He said he will have only 21 days in Augusta before he has to take office.
As sheriff, he hopes to work with youth programs to keep young men out of trouble and to help young offenders get back on the straight and narrow.
It was a message he talked about throughout his campaign, and it resonated with some voters, such as Arthur Crenshaw.
Crenshaw said he voted for Roundtree because he thinks the sheriff’s office needs change and young people need a role model.
“We need someone who knows what goes on in these neighborhoods, who can identify with parts of the county with high crime rates,” Crenshaw said.
Roundtree, a native of Augusta and a graduate of T.W. Josey High School, said he was able to avoid many of the pitfalls facing black youths when he got a football scholarship to South Carolina State University, where he studied electromechanical engineering.
As a sophomore, he had “an epiphany” – he wanted to be a crime fighter. Roundtree joined the Augusta Police Department in 1993 after working as a part-time security guard at Regency Mall and became a sheriff’s deputy after city-county consolidation in 1996. He worked his way from road patrol to property crimes investigations and then violent crimes. While working as a homicide investigator, he earned a master of education degree from Troy University and attended the FBI Academy in 2009. But he was demoted after an episode in which investigative files were discovered in a former residence.
Not long after, Roundtree was hired by the Richmond County Board of Education as a lieutenant in charge of operations for the schools’ Public Safety Department.
After realizing the win Tuesday night, an emotional Roundtree acknowledged it was a historic moment in Richmond County.
“Everyone in this room everyone within the sound of my voice can say, ‘I was there when things changed in Augusta,’ ” he said.