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Commissioner Richardson: The sheriff in Beaufort County is running a secret police operation

Published: Mar. 25, 2021 at 8:32 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON, N.C. (WITN) - Beaufort County Commissioner Hood Richardson claims the Beaufort County sheriff is running a secret police operation.

Richardson used those words in an interview with WITN to describe Sheriff Ernie Coleman, as a committee met Thursday to talk about forming a county police force.

The County Police Force Committee consists of three county commissioners.

At the committee meeting, residents were able to express their thoughts about what a countywide police force would mean for the area.

County Commissioner Randy Walker described the formation of the committee as a fact-finding mission.

Richardson says he was pleased by the turnout and hopes hundreds of people attend the meetings so they can understand what the county is doing.

Richardson says Sheriff Ernie Coleman has refused to appear before county commissioners for more than a year. “The simple truth is we have a lot of problems with our sheriff department in Beaufort County. We have a lot of problems with management. We have a lot of problems with drug enforcement. We have a lot of problems getting reports from the sheriff department, which as far as I am concerned, the sheriff in Beaufort County is running a secret police operation.”

During the meeting, Coleman sent out a news release saying a lot of misinformation is being spread. Coleman says Richardson, nor anyone else, can change the North Carolina Constitution that mandates the Office of the Sheriff. He says, “I have spoken with Representative Keith Kidwell and he advised me that Hood Richardson spoke with him about this. Representative Kidwell advised me that he told Commissioner Richardson that under no circumstance would he sponsor such a ridiculous bill. The chances of a bill of this magnitude getting through the legislature is practically 0%.”

The following is Coleman’s entire statement:

There is a lot of misinformation being spread around Beaufort County about abolishing the Office of the Sheriff, establishing a County Police Department and the replacement of my deputies as school resource officers (SRO) with contracted private security.

In the next several news releases I will explain and dispel a lot of this misinformation that has caused a lot of confusion and concern by the citizens of this county and is being intentionally spread by some Beaufort County Commissioners and members of the Beaufort County School Board. The Beaufort County Commissioners and School Board can spend all the money they want to on private security in your schools or any other wasteful projects in this county as long as the taxpayers keep allowing it, however, I assure the citizens of this county, Hood Richardson nor any other person alone can change the “NORTH CAROLINA STATE CONSTITUTION” that mandates “The office of the Sheriff”. The North Carolina Supreme Court has already ruled on several cases that “The Office of the Sheriff is “not” an entity or “department” of a county and therefore, does not answer to county policy, procedures or ordinances. The common language when referring to the Sheriff’s Office for many years has been “The Sheriff’s Department”, however, the proper title is “The Sheriff’s Office or “The Office of the Sheriff” since it is an elected office and answers only to the people.

The law establishes that the “funding” for the Office of the Sheriff comes from the taxpayers through the respective county government of each county.

So, I rely on the taxpayers to fund the services that are in place for your protection and under my control. To abolish the North Carolina Sheriff would require, legislation to be introduced into the Legislature that would abolish the Office of the Sheriff and replace it with some other entity, THEN, voted on and PASSED by both chambers of state government, THEN, go to the State Board of Elections to be put on a ballot to be voted on in “A General Election” for the entire state to vote on an “Amendment to the State Constitution” to abolish the Office of the Sheriff and have the majority of North Carolina citizens vote for the abolishment. So, with that said does any citizen in this county really believe that the entire State of North Carolina knows, loves, and respects the opinions of a civilian part time politician county commissioner named Hood Richardson to actually allow this to happen? The people of this county are being intentionally misled for political purposes which is causing a lot of unnecessary frustration and time spent on defending the integrity and leadership of my Office.

Services such as school security and courthouse security are services that are negotiated and contracted through the Sheriff “or” private companies. They are not mandated by the constitution or state law. I will continue to serve and protect Beaufort County as “A Constitutional Officer” that answers to the people who elected me and not county government. I was elected and sworn to protect the people of this county from enemies both foreign or domestic and despite the lack of financial support from the county I assure you I will continue to honor my oath to the people of this county to protect their safety and defend their rights.

As far as a County Police Department, it would also take special legislation from the state legislature that would give Beaufort County permission to have a county police department. I have spoken with Representative Keith Kidwell and he advised me that Hood Richardson spoke with him about this. Representative Kidwell advised me that he told Commissioner Richardson that under no circumstance would he sponsor such a ridiculous bill. The chances of a bill of this magnitude getting through the legislature is practically 0%. There have only been two counties out of 100 that have had a county police department. Mecklenburg County, with a population of over one million people and Gaston County, with a population of over 200,000. Mecklenburg County has already abandoned that idea.

Even if the people of this county allowed Hood Richardson to somehow have his own police department it would not affect the fact that the state constitution still mandates that the Sheriff is the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the County and with a population of under 50,000 people the commissioners would have to use the millions of dollars of COVID money that is coming in now to pay for this project just like the Beaufort County School Board is now doing to hire their own private police force for the schools. With no plan to pay for these self-serving projects on a continuous basis, in the future the commissioners and school board are counting on the government to continue to print money and put our children in a debt they will never recover from. Since the county commissioners just voted to give the school board an “additional” $650,000 to implement a private police force on top of what it cost to have my highly trained deputies protect your children in our schools. With this move I have had 18 sworn Deputies DEFUNDED since the first of this year.

Your Sheriff,

Ernie Coleman

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