Incumbent sheriff Mac Manning and Neil Elks, the challenger in the May 4th Democratic primary for the Pitt County sheriff's seat, debated live on “Talk of the Town.”
WITN is providing the entire debate for on-demand viewing. The debate will also be replayed on Cable 7 at 5:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. Thursday.
Neil Elks won the coin toss and gave his two-minute opening statement first.
Elks, the challenger, talked about his Pitt County roots and his work in the Pitt County Sheriff's Office. He spoke of his management experience at the sheriff's office and his educational background. Elks also mentioned his work as a deacon in his church and several community organizations.
Elks talked about the cases he has investigated and its impact on the victims. He said he is very passionate about seeking closure for victims.
In his opening statement, incumbent Mac Manning talked about his more than 11 years as sheriff. He's been with the Pitt County Sheriff's Office since 1982. Manning also covered his educational background, both in college and law enforcement. Manning talked about his involvement with law enforcement groups, other community organizations and his church.
WITN's Dave Jordan asked the first question of the candidates.
The question involved a controversial issue in this race, the death of Stacey Pollard, the husband of former sheriff's
lieutenant Michelle Pollard.
Manning talked about the policy about cases involving law enforcement officers.
Manning said there was no linkage of liability back to the county for anything that occurred and went on to say that the facts of the case showed no crime was committed. He said it was a death investigation of an accidental tragic drowning.
Asked a similar question, Elks talked about being the captain on the scene. He was asked if he ever talked to the sheriff and suggested the death was anything but an accidental drowning.
Elks said he investigated the case, there were a lot of emotions, he talked to Ms. Pollard and that he thought the SBI was going to be called in to investigate.
Manning stated not one member filed one report orally or verbally that there was evidence whatsoever that a crime had been committed in this case. He said Captain Elks filed no report suggesting this and went on to say the evidence of the case clearly points to accidental drowning.
The candidates were then asked by "The Minority Voice" how they would keep black youth from crime.
Elks said the community needs to be involved. He said it is going to take more than just the sheriff's department to make a difference. Elks said the sheriff's department under his guidance would be a part of a community effort to keep young people out of crime. Elks said he feels like more diversity is needed in the sheriff's office.
Manning said one out of four sheriff's office employees is a minority. He stated minority crime is a complicated issue, not just in Pitt County. He talked about sensitivity training to deal with minorities and the work to reach out to youth in high-crime neighborhoods, some of those minority neighborhoods.
A viewer question was asked next. A viewer wanted to know when the sheriff's office was tipped off that Michelle Pollard tipped off the drug dealer, what happened?
Manning said an internal investigation was started. He said they gathered facts, then Pollard was confronted and that Pollard chose to resign her position. Manning stated before they could even write the reports, someone notified the district attorney's office about the case.Manning said the district attorney's office then asked SBI to investigate.
Manning said the end result was the same and the evidence that was produced during the sheriff's office internal investigation was some of the same evidence used in the prosecution.
Elks said he knows for a fact that internal investigation was complete, and undercover officers were calling him to ask what to do. Elks said that he himself did call the district attorney, that he wanted the DA to know undercover officers may be calling with concerns about the investigation, and Elks wanted to make sure they were protected. Elks claimed Manning did not know there was an SBI investigation underway until he was questioned.
Manning said they pulled the trigger on the case prematurely. He said the sheriff's office took appropriate action. Manning stated that Elks had just admitted Elks was the one who called the district attorney. Manning said he did indeed know there was an SBI investigation, and that he was also in consultation with the county about the matter.
A follow-up to a previous question to Elks involved why he did not notify the sheriff if he felt there was a murder or other wrong doing in the Pollard case.
Elks said he thought the SBI was being called in. Elks said he and other sheriff's employees were told to keep their mouths shut. He said he did not know until later the SBI had not been called in. Elks said he needed to make sure it was understood that he believed the SBI was being called in.
Manning said it was important to note regardless of whether the sheriff's office contacted SBI, the sheriff's office is still going to conduct an investigation. Once the SBI was called in, it took a year for the report. He stated he has no compunction against calling the SBI when there is a reason.
The next question involved the sheriff's leadership with recent incidents involving Michelle Pollard in prison and another sheriff's office employee charged with supplying alcohol to someone underage.
Manning said they are unfortunate, but employee issues are always a part of the workplace. He said they happened in the sheriff's office before he arrived, and that they would happened under the next sheriff. He said he took appropriate action in connection with employee issues.
Elks said the problem should have been nipped in the bud several years ago when it became clear an employee was acting in a way unbecoming of an officer. He said he would hold employees to a high standard of conduct.
Manning said he thought it was important to note that Pollard's performance appraisals were glowing, including the one given to her by Neil Elks when he was her supervisor. Manning said the evaluation given by Elks said Pollard was exceeding expectations.
Elks was asked, since he has brought the case up in his campaign, if he believed a crime was committed in the Stacey
Pollard case. He did not say either way, but said he had questions and wondered why lawmen let a case go with a death certificate of "undetermined."
Manning said it is very clear that Neil Elks was the captain of the case that night, and he was the person best positioned to make sure it was handled right. Manning said he was surprised to hear Elks had only been on the scene for 10 minutes and was surprised Elks was questioning the case four and half years later.
Each candidate was asked what he sees for the future of the sheriff's office.
Elks said his platform is common sense policing. He said he will have two offices, one the field, the other the courthouse.
Elks said he would surround himself with people who can manage the department, he would work with officers, cut out wasteful spending and work with community. Elks talked about gangs and how he would crack down. He spoke of diversity, of minorities and women. Elks said he would restore faith in the department.
Manning said if he remains sheriff, he sees crime rates continuing to trend down as they have in his 11 years as sheriff, clearance rates higher than the state and national average, high visibility in the field, commuity based patrols, lower response time, mobile field reporting and a focus on the root causes of crime, like gangs, gang, drugs, illegal aliens, career criminals.
Manning, in his closing statement, said the sheriff's department affects many different parts of our community. He said it ranges from enforcement in all areas, detention management, the issuing of permits, the registration of sex offenders and so on. Manning said his proven track record has been service oriented. He noted the sheriff's office now keeps the front desk open until 6:00 p.m. to better serve citizens. Manning said he has spent 11 years devoted to serving the public. He talked about his experience, training and ability.
Elks, in his closing statement, said he needed to adjust his closing statement to make it clear that his statements on the Pollard case are not politically motivated as Sheriff Manning suggested. He went into his time at the scene and said his departure from the scene that night was because he had to take Michelle Pollard to the hospital. Elks then went on to say that as sheriff, he said he felt like he could make a difference in the community. He said he wants to bring morale up in the department, address the important issues and have the opportunity to serve the citizens of Pitt County.
"Talk of the Town" is carried daily on 103.7 WTIB and Cable 7, on the Suddenlink system. The debate was also carried on WITN’s My TV network, which you can watch over the air on 7.2 and on Suddenlink digital cable 167, as well as streamed live on witn.com.
Henry Hinton, president and general manager of Inner Banks Media and host of “Talk of the Town,” moderated the debate, which began shortly after 8:00 a.m.
WITN anchor Dave Jordan and a representative from “The Minority Voice” newspaper are on the media panel asked questions of the candidates.
The candidates also answered two e-mail questions. Viewers were asked to send in their questions by 9:00 a.m. Wednesday.
“We are happy that both Mac and Neil have agreed to do this,” said Hinton. “The voters of Pitt County have a big decision to make and they deserve a chance to see both of those men in a debate format. We are very appreciative of both candidates for making themselves available to us.”