Sheriff confident in his re-election bid

Sheriff Richard Roundtree says his office met nine of its 10 goals and he's looking forward to a second term.

Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree believes a successful first term in office will speak for itself when all the votes are counted in next month's election.

 

"Not everyone wanted this administration to succeed," he said. "I knew that and the pressure was on to not just succeed or do OK. We wanted to do an exceptional job. I think going into this next election the numbers will show that we've done that."

During his first campaign and after the 2012 election, he received death threats, leading to two people being charged with terroristic threats. His life immediately changed as he gained the title "sheriff," especially as the county's first black top law enforcement officer. He said he knew more than any of his predecessors that he had to not only prove himself to the voters who were against him but live up to the promises he had made to supporters.

Originally, he anticipated his planned changes for the sheriff's office to take six to eight years, but he estimates the agency is about two to 2½ years ahead of schedule.

When Roundtree took office, he made 10 goals for the agency. Some of the goals included developing a gang task force, a citizen's advisory board, a community policing program, obtaining accreditation and certification for the agency and ensuring accountability by adding body cameras to police uniforms. During an interview earlier this month, Roundtree said the department is now 9 for 10. The only goal that hasn't been reached is adding a camera system downtown, which requires funding.

"We accomplished those in 3½ years," Roundtree said. "We thought we'd be stretching all the way to the fourth, but we actually had six months to spare so we're extremely pleased."

Out of all the programs and initiatives, however, Roundtree said he's most pleased with the job deputies have done to increase community relations. Since he took office, he estimates community relations are "10 times better." He believes it's one of the reasons the Augusta area was spared from some of the violent protests and marches the rest of the country experienced regarding police brutality concerns. At that point the agency had already bridged the gap, he said.

"We started that Day 1," he said of community policing. "...When those protests started happening nationally, we felt good about our relationship with Augusta."

He admitted, however, to being a little disappointed with the results from the department's attempts at curbing gun violence. Over the past four years, the sheriff's office developed multiple programs it believed would reach residents and make a difference. Although he wouldn't call it a failure, he said it wasn't as successful as he hoped.

"Unfortunately we have a large amount of gun violence, especially among young black males in this city," he said. "I wish I could find a better way to reach that group and tell them this is not the way to go. You're ruining lives and not just yours. ... That is the most frustrating."

In addition to dealing with the city's crime rate, Roundtree found himself facing an unexpected problem his first term when a man arrested for selling steroids claimed Richmond County deputies were some of his customers. Roundtree admits he got some "criticism" for the sheriff's office's actions in the aftermath, but he believes they handled it correctly.

"It's one of those issues we had to face and we inherited," he said.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation and sheriff's office conducted separate investigations into the list of deputy names provided. Although some of the officers involved resigned, the district attorney's office chose not prosecute any officers for illegal steroid use because there wasn't enough evidence.

If elected for a second term, Roundtree said he already has a plan, which is the exact opposite of his first term. He plans to set goals from the bottom up, instead of the top down. Deputies are already meeting with their supervisors to give input on the issues in the community and what changes they would like to see at the sheriff's office.

"When I came into office these were goals I set," he said of the first-term plan. "...Now I think it is the deputies' and citizens' turn to say what they would like to see out of the sheriff's office."

The sheriff faces opposition in the race from former deputy Brian McDuffie, who was fired by the sheriff in August 2013 for using excessive force when he struck a 15-year-old boy in the head with his flashlight.

Roundtree stated McDuffie is the only employee he's ever personally fired. He added that he tried to give the officer the benefit of doubt during the investigation, but after the deputy admitted to hitting the teen, he knew it was something he and his agency could not tolerate.

Last weekend, McDuffie held a news conference to announce he had filed an ethics complaint against Roundtree because the sheriff used paid deputies in uniform in a political TV ad. On Friday, Roundtree called the allegations a "frivolous attempt" to discredit the agency and said he expects it to have "zero effect on us winning a second term."

He said he called the executive director of the Georgia Sheriff's Association prior to filming and has documentation to prove deputies who took part in the ad were both off duty and volunteers. Since the complaint was filed Oct. 13, he has not been contacted by anyone from the ethics commission.

"We consider it to be a desperate attempt from an extremely weak campaign whose candidate has no education, no leadership experience, a termination and an arrest record to provide a distraction leading into the upcoming election," he said by email.

Roundtree said he remains confident of the race, having received a substantial amount of support from the community, including those who have admitted they didn't vote for him the first time but are supporters now.

"In the first election we won 64 percent of the vote with a candidate that was much more qualified than the candidate now," he said of Freddie Sanders, the Republican candidate he faced in 2012. "...Our goal is to tack on the other 30 or so percent we didn't get last time."

A review of financial contributions shows Roundtree has received a substantial amount of contributions c ompared to the other candidate.

In an Oct. 1 Campaign Contribution Disclosure Report, Roundtree reported receiving nearly $290,000 in total contributions, compared to the about $7,500 McDuffie has reported.

"We believe in our record. We believe in our qualifications," Roundtree said.

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Reach Bianca Cain Johnson at (706) 823-3486 or bianca.johnson@augustachronicle.com

 

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