When your employees appear on NBC News with their faces and voices distorted for anonymity, it may be a sign that you aren’t running your office well. The employees of the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office have done that and more to try to tell the world about the working conditions since Sheriff Scott Jenkins took office in 2012.
In an office that only has 101 positions, 91 deputies and employees have left (as of Nov. 2017). They have reported being bullied and cursed at, and they’ve had their freedom of expression limited, with the Sheriff preventing them from participating in civic groups, and demanding they close down their Facebook accounts. Multiple anonymous Facebook pages (see here and here) have been created expressly for former workers to air their grievances.
This is the same Sheriff Jenkins who made news headlines recently after it was discovered that he was personally flying across the country on extraditions (typically conducted in every other jurisdiction by assistants). He and a female employee charged $3,500 to the Virginia Supreme Court for a trip to Las Vegas that included first-class airfare, and a three-night stay at the MGM Grand hotel; and over $4,000 for them to fly to San Diego first class, staying at the Omni Hotel, with multiple room service charges including a $90 lobster meal, plus three separate visits to McCormick and Schmick.
Before Jenkins became Sheriff, he was an investigator for the same office, where his misconduct helped wrongfully convict 15-year old Michael Wayne Hash of capital murder. The US District Court, granting habeas relief to Hash, said that the “conduct of Investigators Jenkins and [Mack], who coached [alleged eyewitness and co-defendant] Weakley’s answers regarding Weakley’s knowledge of crime scene details, so as to make his statement more reliable, rises to the level of outrageous misconduct because the acts were intentional and not merely negligent.” He also “testified falsely at Hash’s trial regarding whether Weakley’s interviews were recorded.” Hash served twelve years in prison for a crime that he did not commit.
Wait, there’s more. The Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office is also one of only two jurisdictions in all of Virginia to have a 287(g) agreement with ICE, whereby they voluntarily notify ICE, and detain people in jail up to 48 hours to allow ICE time to come. In fact, there are only 81 such local agreements in the country, out of around 15,000 jurisdictions. Agreements like this are costly to the communities whose local funds are used to subsidize federal immigration policing, without any reimbursement. And in addition to creating a fearful environment for immigrant families and children, study after study has found that these agreements weaken public safety, by reducing incentives to report crimes.
Guess what? There’s a new sheriff in town–or, at least, there will be! CJ Johnson, who lost to Jenkins four years ago in a four-way race, is running again, this time as the only challenger. He will bring much-needed transparency to the office, including insisting on the use of body-worn cameras. He will focus on community policing to restore community trust in law enforcement., and will look for ways to partner with other local agencies like Living the Dream Foundation and CARS that help those with addictions find treatment. And he will end the 287(g) agreement. Let’s do what we can to help elect this man, and bring some relief to the poor employees of the office, and to this community!