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Once close friends and colleagues, candidates in Guilford County sheriff race get personal

by Jordan Green

Barnes helped opponent get appointment as Us marshal

In the May 4 primary, Sheriff BJ Barnesfaces a Republican challenger with pendingmisdemeanors related to an altercationwith a deputy in the May 4 primary.Four Democrats, including retired US MarshalHarlon Costner, are playing the field for a placeon the ballot in November.Already the contest has largely narrowedto two candidates. Costner has been activelycampaigning since last fall, and has argued thatdeputies need additional training to minimizethe need for deadly force when dealing withemotionally disturbed subjects. Barnes has heldhis sheriff’s office up as one of the best in thestate and says it has operated “without a hint ofpropriety” since he succeeded Democrat Walter“Sticky” Burch in 1995.The political contest between Barnes andCostner is underscored by a bitter rivalry thatdeveloped between the two after a once closepersonal friendship and professional partnershipsoured.“In life, things change,” Costner said. “Mr.Barnes knows full well what he did. He knowsin his heart that he was wrong. That’s all I’ll sayabout that.”Costner and his wife were married at Barnes’house, and Barnes and his future wife were thewitnesses. Costner served under Barnes as chiefdeputy, and Barnes helped Costner get his mostrecent job as US marshal for the middle districtof North Carolina.“The president appoints US marshals on therecommendation of a US senator,” Barnes said.“I did recommend Harlon to Senator [Jesse]Helms, and it was a mistake.”As Barnes described it, the two law enforcementofficials’ feud stems from a request thatCostner made of Barnes for interagency supportshortly after Costner was confirmed as a USmarshal.Barnes said that when Costner had served aschief deputy in the Guilford County Sheriff’sOffice, he had recommended against a similarrequest because of a lack of resources and manpower.Now, as US marshal, Costner wanted toassemble a federal fugitive task force and forBarnes to assign one of his deputies to serveon it in a role that would take the deputy out ofGuilford County.“I said, ‘What’s changed? I still don’t havethe resources to do that,’” Barnes recalled. “Hesaid, ‘What’s changed is there’s a new marshal.’I refused to give up one of my guys. He tookoffense to that and basically stopped talking tome.”Barnes said the rift did not undermine cooperationbetween the sheriff’s office and the USMarshals Service.“Call over and ask them if the GuilfordCounty Sheriff’s Office ever failed to supportthem in anything they asked them to do,”Barnes said. “It’s petty. It’s BS is what it is. I’mnot going to allow anybody else to affect myjob and what I need to do.”Steve Blando, a spokesman for the USMarshals Service in Washington, said he wasnot familiar with the dispute between Barnesand Costner and could not say whether the relationshipbetween the two agencies suffered asa result. He said the US Marshals Service oftenrelies on local agencies for additional manpower,and the federal agency reciprocates byallowing their local counterparts to work acrossjurisdictions.“In terms of cooperation across the board,there is a great deal of cooperation between federaland state law enforcement,” Blando said.“Every agency has a unique set of talents andresources that they bring to the table. The federalagency, the US Marshal Service is uniquein that we are basically able to perform lawenforcement across all jurisdictional lines acrossthe nation. We can pursue fugitives across statelines. Without getting too technical, we can alsodo a special deputization. We can deputize localofficials to take on the same jurisdictional capabilitythat the US marshals have.”Costner stepped down from his post as USmarshal after the inauguration of PresidentObama. In April 2009, he switched his registrationfrom Republican to Democrat as heprepared to run for sheriff against his old friend.Costner said he opted to leave the US MarshalsServices when President Obama was inauguratedso that he would be able to pursue thesheriff’s office after retiring.“Had I remained in the marshal’s office, Iprobably would not have been reappointed,” hesaid. “US marshals are presidentially appointed.I knew that I would be there for a definitiveamount of time. A good number of my marshalcolleagues chose to leave at the same time as Idid.”Jeffrey Carter, chief of public affairs for theUS Marshals Services, said all the marshalswere offered the opportunity to serve in aholdover capacity until new nominees wereapproved by the Senate, and most chose to stayon.Costner said he changed his party registrationso that he will have more time to introducehimself to voters, assuming that he clears theprimary. Running in the Republican primaryagainst Barnes would have essentially onlygiven him three months to build name recognitionamong voters.Meanwhile, Costner has made a point tounderscore his differences with Barnes.“I believe that he has lost sight of his constituentsand is not delivering the services,”Costner said. “I want to return accountabilityand accessibility to the sheriff’s office. It’sabout focusing on the community and solvingproblems.”Costner has argued that deputies need additionaltraining in crisis intervention to handleemotionally disturbed subjects and minimizethe risk that officers will need to use lethalforce.“Mr. Barnes doesn’t believe he has to dothat,” Costner said. “For those first responders,that’s something that’s vitally important for theirtraining and their use in the community. Moreand more incidents are taking place wherebythey discover that the caller or the subject or thesuspect is dealing with mental health issues. Itcould be post-traumatic stress, bipolar [disorder]or schizophrenia. The deputies need to knowhow to deal with those issues versus usingdeadly force. I know that just because they getthe training doesn’t mean that they’re not goingto have to use deadly force. But if you don’tget the crisis intervention training, how can youknow what you don’t know?”Barnes responded that he has sent one officerto a state-level critical instance training, but hecan’t afford to send 225 deputies to a 40-hourtraining. He emphasized that the deputiesinvolved in two recent deadly force incidentshad only seconds to make critical decisions.“Fourteen seconds and 32 seconds, that’show long it takes,” he said. “Fourteen seconds,that involved the gentleman with the bush axe.Thirty-two seconds on the 17-year-old. Thewhole time he was trying to get the individualto stop.”Costner also said he believes Barnes hasexaggerated the need for additional personnel inthe new Greensboro jail under construction, andthat the county could save money by leasingbeds to the federal government.“Harlon’s been drinking the punch again,”Barnes responded. “It shows you that he doesnot know anything about running a jail. Thisjail and the model has been looked at by all theprofessionals, not only by my staff but by thefolks the county hired. There’s 1,032 bed spacesin this jail. Right now, there are approximately500 people in the old jail. Immediately, thepeople from the old jail will be transferred in.Now, you’ve got that jail half full. You’ve alsogot people in the High Point jail that make itovercrowded. The day that we move in therewill be 680 to 690 prisoners that will come in assoon as you open the doors.”In weighing the strengths and weaknesses ofthe candidates, Barnes argued that voters shouldconsider his more than 15 years on the job.“The big issue is, quite honestly, experience,”he said. “I’ve got it. They don’t.” !

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