On Aug. 21, candidate Richard Roundtree won the Democratic nomination for the Richmond County sheriff’s race, defeating Scott Peebles in a runoff. He will take on the Republican nominee, Freddie Sanders, in November.
By most accounts, Roundtree’s win surprised pretty much everybody. Just about everybody thought Scott Peebles – with an endorsement from Sheriff Ronnie Strength, Mayor Deke Copenhaver, the Augusta Professional Firefighters and the most campaign money – was a shoo-in for the nomination.
That is, everybody except Roundtree and his camp.
ROUNDTREE SPENT eight years as a homicide detective with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office. In 2008, he was demoted and removed from the homicide department when someone cleaning up his empty Augusta apartment found investigative files belonging to the sheriff’s office. It was a department violation, but not a criminal offense. There also were alleged inappropriate relationships with female co-workers on file.
I sat down with Richard recently to discuss his past, his present and what he says he wants for his future. He was surprisingly candid. No questions were off the table.
“When I was with the sheriff’s department, I was on top of my game. I was good and knew I was good as a homicide detective,” he said. “I was cocky, too. I was always confident in my game. People would see me on TV and some people thought it arrogant. Sometimes I would go into interrogations and say ‘Do you know who I am?’”
He laughed. “I am a different person now.”
“Why are you different?” I asked.
“My mother was always saying then that I was missing out on life, but I was so caught up with being a crime-fighter I didn’t see it,” he explained. “When I got demoted and was taken out of homicide, I felt like I lost it all, but then I had more time to spend with her and my sons. I realized that I had missed out on a lot. I had lost out on a lot of time with my sons and her. I changed that and continued to grow my faith.”
I asked Roundtree: What was your most memorable moment in law enforcement? His face instantly warmed. “I’d have to say it was the Reinaldo Rivera case,” he said. “I was a rookie working on that case. I arrived on the scene and worked the team that caught a serial killer.”
In 2004, serial killer Reinaldo Rivera confessed to the rape and murder of four women, dating to 1999. Roundtree, although a rookie working the case, says that the case was an important one for him.
ROUNDTREE BEGAN to share the details of the case. The more he shared about the case and his career, the more relaxed he became. To be honest I was so engaged in the story that I hadn’t noticed we’d talked for nearly two hours.
I asked him how he reconciled seeing the stuff he saw in homicide, and still slept at night.
“I had to learn to control my emotions and turn off my feelings. I’ve lost a lot of relationships because of that, but that’s what I had to do to get through it,” he said.
So is that why some people say he is cold and arrogant?
“Yes, I think so. I’ve gotten better with it.”
Let’s talk about your lost relationships, I said. What about you being a playboy?
“I’m not,” he said. “I haven’t had a serious relationship for nearly six years.”
Just because you weren’t in a relationship does not mean you’re not a playboy, I replied.
“I am not the man I was,” he said. “I’ve been through a lot and lost a lot, and if I was the same man today that I was years ago, then I would not have made it through all this. I’m a different person”
What has been the most difficult part of this whole election?
HE BEGAN TO tear up. “The most hurtful was the fact that my sons and my mother had to deal with all the negative stuff that was being written and said about me,” he said. “It’s hard to explain to a 6-year-old why people are saying nasty stuff about his daddy.”
I was so taken aback by his openness that I said loudly, “Roundtree, I made you cry!” “It’s the light shining in my eyes, Cher, that’s all,” he replied.
OK, I said. One more question. Would you have been crushed if you had not won the runoff?
“No, honestly, that night, I didn’t want to win so much for me. I wanted to win because so many people had worked so hard and I didn’t want to disappoint them. Personally, I was a peace because of my faith.”
After completing the interview, there were a few things I realized about him.
Richard Roundtree is a guarded man. I guess he has to be, and like most of us, he has made mistakes. He admits them. He also is a father who loves his children, a son who loves his mother and, at his core, a crime-fighter. He is human, and he need not apologize for that.
(The writer is a radio personality with radio station WKSP-FM (96.3), and a columnist for The Augusta Chronicle’s Applause section. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)