After a barrage of unsubstantiated claims about the Floyd County Sheriff’s Department by candidate Jimmy Howery, the department’s respected chief investigator — and a minister — wrote a detailed letter to The Floyd Press to answer and correct the attacks from Howery.
“Many things have been said about the men and women of the Floyd County Sheriff’s Office, most of which has no facts in it at all,” wrote Jeff Dalton, who is retiring as chief investigator after more than 30 years with the department and will devote full time to his ministry at Slate Mountain Church, one of the “rock churches” of legendary Bob Childress.
“It all started with crime statistics that were being used to promote that the officers of the Sheriff’s Office were not doing their job. These statistics were proven to be false,” Dalton wrote.
A letter like Dalton’s can be considered a “come to Jesus” minute that spotlights actions by someone citing inaccurate “facts,” making unverified claims or going too far. A “come to Jesus” call from a minister raises eyebrows.
Dalton, in his letter, went point by point through other misleading and inaccurate claims by Howery, including one that “someone told” him others had reported seeing deputies in patrol cars putting up campaign signs for deputy Brian Craig, who is supported by most of the officers in the department. An investigation by Blue Ridge Muse discovered that one officer had restored some campaign signs for all candidates that he found blown after the storm that devastated the area. Some of the signs restored included some for Howery.
Howery claimed an auxiliary offer who is paid for just 80 hours of work a year was driving a sheriff’s department car and was not properly certified. The officer, a retired detective who moved to the county, works more than 200 hours a year volunteering his time. I know him and he’s a good cop and a dedicated public servant who helps with the area anti-drug campaigns and provides other support to the department, mostly on his own time and often using his own car. The department car he sometimes uses is a spare worn out vehicle with many miles on it and is used when needed by other officers in the department.
The auxiliary officer also received extensive training in his long career as a respected police officer.
Floyd Countians, in letters and on social media, have expressed anger and regret over the negative campaign that Howery conducted in his campaign for sheriff. Some said they expected better from a retired Virginia State Trooper and former court bailiff, a part-time deputy sheriff serving as a court bailiff and who was dismissed by the current and retiring sheriff for writing a letter that made inaccurate claims about actions of sheriff’s deputies.
“It troubles me to see the negative statements that are made about men and women who put on a badge and uniform every day and leave home to serve the people of Floyd County and no doubtless hours of things that you never hear about,” Dalton said in his letter.
Amy, my wife, and I have had interactions with the Floyd County Sheriff’s Department in the 11 years that we have lived in Floyd after moving here from the Washington, DC, area. For me, it was a return to the place where I spent several of my formative years and graduated from high school. For her, born in Illinois and raised in the St. Louis area, it was a new place she fell in love with when we came here in 2002 to film a documentary on the Friday Night Jamboree.
Not long after we moved to Floyd, someone hauled off a stone three-piece replica of the Loch Ness Monster that I bought as a birthday present for Amy two years earlier. It stood near a creek at the bottom of our yard. Deputy Tim Delaney responded quickly to our call about the theft and he and investigator Steve Graham kept looking for it until it was found in a back yard of a home near Check.
A young man and his girlfriend had loaded it into a pickup truck in the dark of night and hauled it off as a “gift” to the girlfriend’s mother. They were arrested, tried, convicted and punished. Not a major crime in the record books but a major one to Amy, who lost a valued birthday gift that was found and returned.
On Nov. 9, 2012, Delaney and another deputy came to our house late on a Friday night as Amy waited for me to return from photographing a high school playoff game near Staunton. I had crashed my motorcycle on U.S. 221 near the bottom of Bent Mountain. The young deputy drove Amy in her car to Roanoke Memorial with Tim following in his patrol car and they helped her in the first hours of what would be a long struggle and hospital stay. Dalton and other deputies visited during my two months in the hospital and rehab. They were among the many Floyd Countians who visited and helped.
These are just two personal experiences for us with a professional and caring sheriff’s department that takes care of the citizens of Floyd County. In the 10 plus years that I have covered the criminal justice system for the media since moving back to the area, I have covered and observed many fine examples of good police work in the county.
As a reporter who have covered news and police for more than half a century, including police departments with problems and scandals, I can say without reservation that the Floyd County Sheriff’s Department has been on of the better law enforcement agencies that I have covered and observed. I spend long hours each week writing about the cases the department has successfully investigated and helped bring those who break the law to justice.
Dalton ends his letter with this:
It’s been said that Brian Craig will not change anything in the Sheriff’s Office. That is just another political opinion. I have worked for five different Sheriffs and each one made changes and was unlike the Sheriff before him. So I do see changes coming and I to think Brian Craig is the man for the job. Most of the Sheriff’s Office supports him, not because we are forced to but because we know him, work with him and trust him and I will say that I do feel my Constitution Rights have been violated in any way.
As I end my career I say this: When I lay my head on my pillow at night I sleep easy because I know those men and women in brown are out there protecting a county that I grew up in love…God and protect each of them.
In Floyd County, such comments from the preacher usually bring a chorus of “amen.”