Aiken County Sheriff Mike Hunt is up for re-election on June 9. The Jail Report presented his campaign with one of our questions and five questions submitted from readers on Facebook. His answers are below, and they are followed by questions and answers for Challenger Jarrod Goldman.

SHERIFF MIKE HUNT

   The Jail Report: Why are you running for re-election? Can you talk about your accomplishments and your goals for the next four years?

   Hunt: During my time as Sheriff, the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office has stood beside, served, and protected Aiken County citizens through a catastrophic train wreck, ice storms, tornados, floods, hurricanes, forest fires, and even a global pandemic. I am passionate about protecting and serving Aiken County, whether it be through times of natural disaster or through the daily trials we encounter.

   I have cried with you in moments of pain, laughed with you in moments of joy, comforted you in times of loss, and celebrated with you during times of happiness. I have tirelessly pursued justice and have extended a hand to help those in need.

   Quite frankly, I am running for re-election because I am not done doing all of those things. I am still passionate about protecting and serving the citizens of Aiken County. I believe I am the only candidate in this race that has the experience, expertise, and knowledge to lead this agency through the various challenges we face and I would appreciate your vote on June 9th.

   Since my first campaign in 2003, I have been committed to making the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office the premier law enforcement agency in South Carolina. We have made tremendous progress towards that goal during my tenure as Sheriff, but I feel we still have work to do. I consider myself to be a  “Working Sheriff.”

   I am in the community every day – working. I see how our agency has advanced, but I also see opportunities for growth and enhanced service. To become the premier law enforcement agency in South Carolina, we must work collaboratively to retain and recruit the best employees. I have worked with County Council to increase pay for Sheriff’s Office personnel, which has resulted in greater service and protection for Aiken County citizens.

   I have worked with the County Council to triple the number of deputies on the road, which allows more rural areas of the county (such as Monetta, Wagner, and Windsor) to have their own patrol zones. I have built great working relationships with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies which has allowed us to specifically target violent crime in our county.

   Over the next four years, I will build on these accomplishments, enhance community partnerships, and aggressively pursue drug and gang activity in order to provide Aiken County’s citizens with the protection and service they deserve.

Rick Allan Barnes Jr: What more can be done to get more protection and accountability for drug dealers living next to our homes like mine on Teresa Ave? I’ll even let someone sit at my house to watch the constant drug dealing.

Andrew McCaskill: I like Sheriff Hunt. I would like to ask, what is Aiken County doing proactively to stop gang activity in our county? We’ve had several murders in the last two years linked to gangs and I’ve seen an increase in young people looking like/acting like gang members. I’d like to see a proactive response verses more unnecessary violence.

Hunt: If it’s ok, I’ll attempt to answer both of these questions in a single response. Gang and drug activity go hand in hand. Regretfully, much of our violent crime (including some of our murders) has some connection to gang and drug activity. We are taking aggressive, proactive enforcement actions to combat these issues, but, let me be clear: we will not arrest our way out of these problems.

   There seems to be a prevailing mentality that glorifies and, in some cases, outright endorses the gang and drug culture in our community. We are working diligently with community stakeholders to address these problems, but community problems require community solutions.

   We need leaders in our community, not just law enforcement officials and prosecutors, to stand up and condemn these actions and this lifestyle. We need men and women to mentor our young people to show them there is a different way. We need treatment for those who battle addiction. We need job opportunities for those who feel that pushing drugs is the only manner in which you can provide for your family. We need to teach our children that law enforcement officers are there to help, not harm.

   It is almost impossible to hold gang members, drug dealers, and violent criminals accountable when no one is willing to talk about what he or she witnessed. We must come together to show the gang and drug culture is dangerous and has the potential to paralyze our community through fear and intimidation. We must say, with one voice, that we will not allow the actions of few to impact the livelihood of many.

   I am proud to say we have expanded our community crime watch programs from six to over thirty communities since I became Sheriff. We’ve established relationships with key leaders throughout the community that we can lean upon and have open and honest communication. We have created a drug task force with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies that has made a tremendous impact.

   But again, we will not achieve long term success by arresting our way out of this problem. We have to change the culture in the community. We must continue and grow our community partnerships and empower them to curtail some of these issues through alternative means. That is one one major objective I plan to prioritize if the citizens of Aiken County allow me to continue serving as their Sheriff.

Robert Fox: What’s going on with the unsolved murders in Aiken Co.?? Gunter Road, for instance.

Hunt: Call me an optimist, but I prefer to look at these cases as “pending” rather than “unsolved”. I say that because murder cases are often complex and require time to properly investigate and process evidence.

   When facts, evidence, and witnesses all line up quickly, our agency has been quick to make arrests. According to data from SLED, we have a nearly 80% clearance rate on homicides.

   It should be understood that labeling a case as “pending” does not mean the case is unsolvable or that we have stopped working on the case. Quite the opposite is true. We have solid leads and are waiting for forensic evidence to be processed on many of our pending cases, including the case you referred to on Gunter Road.

   I will note, however, that our efforts could be expedited – on all cases — if individuals with knowledge of the events surrounding the crime were more cooperative. If our community is going to overcome this violence, it will take a unified effort. Life is precious and our community must be willing to take a stand against such senseless violence and loss of life.

Jamie Whittaker: How do you plan to stop the corruption within your own department? That’s my question. Aiken County has been brought to light with all their corruption. From the sheriff’s office to your parole offices. How do you plan to solve it?

Hunt: I believe it is inaccurate to say the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office has a “corruption” problem. We do not. Have we had to address matters of discipline and poor decisions? Absolutely. We employ humans and humans are imperfect.

   With that said, the overwhelming majority of our personnel are hardworking, honest civil servants. There have been some, however, who have made poor decisions that negatively impact and reflect upon them and this agency. A culture of corruption would simply turn a blind eye to those indiscretions and allow them to continue.

   We, however, have a culture of accountability and integrity. We directly confront these matters and request an independent investigation from SLED to ensure personal biases do not interfere with or taint the pursuit of justice. We work diligently to hire the best, most qualified individuals with the highest levels of character.

   We understand, however, that even the best employees can and do make mistakes. Therefore, we have processes, both online and in person, through which citizens can file complaints. Those complaints are thoroughly investigated and addressed when the complaint is founded.

    We cannot complete our missions to serve and protect if the citizens do not trust us. So, we go to great lengths to ensure we are worthy of your trust.

Angela Marie: Is it true that you are only staying this last term so you can get 20 years (2003 – 2023), to receive taxpayer paid health benefits for you and your family members for life?

Hunt: If the citizens of Aiken County choose to re-elect me to serve as their Sheriff (and I sincerely hope they do), I will hit a significant benchmark of 20 years of service as Sheriff during the upcoming term. While this benchmark does trigger a lower rate of health insurance premiums, it does not equate to free health benefits for me and my family for life. I, like every other county employee, will have to pay my health insurance premiums for the rest of my life.

In these times of uncertainty, I understand and appreciate the nature of this question. I would say, however, that I have never wanted to serve as Sheriff in order to receive the associated financial benefits. I am passionate about protecting and serving the citizens of Aiken County with the highest levels of professionalism and integrity. It is this passion that drives my service and my desire to be re-elected, not the pursuit of personal financial gain. With that said, I would appreciate your vote on June 9, 2020 and again on June 11, 2024.

CHIEF JARROD GOLDMAN

   The Jail Report: Why are you running for sheriff and what is your background?

   Goldman: I’m troubled by the many failures I see in leadership at the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office. My opponent bragged to the news media about hiding scandals from the public. He allowed gangs to establish a foothold in our schools. On his watch, Aiken County is now in the top 10 for murders, robberies, and sexual batteries in South Carolina. He’s played favoritism in serving warrants, waiting over a year to arrest a man charged with battery against a 17 year old girl.

   We must do better. And I have a plan for improving things.

   We can crack down on illegal drugs. We can work with President Trump on identifying and deporting illegal immigrants. We can serve warrants without favoritism. We can make Aiken County Safe Again. And we can do it all without raising taxes.

   A common theme runs through my life: service above self. Whether as a United States Marine serving overseas or as a law enforcement professional serving our communities here in Aiken County, I’ve always been there for people who need me.

   I’m a fourth generation Aiken County native who learned the importance of hard work at my dad’s side in the construction industry. While other kids were playing ball, I grew up running heavy equipment, operating a crane, and working as a foreman overseeing a grading crew. I’ve always been in a leadership position since I was 18.

   Wanting to do my part when America went to war, I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 2003. I completed basic training at Parris Island in 2004 and was ordered to the Middle East in August 2005 in support of operation Iraqi Freedom. There I served as a driver and machine gunner in convoys throughout the Anbar Province, an area that was called the most dangerous place in Iraq for U.S. troops.

   An accident overseas left me with three fractured vertebrae and ended my military career. After rehab, recovery, and an honorable discharge it was back to South Carolina as a heavy equipment operator. But I still wanted to serve others.

   My dad was a volunteer firefighter and assistant fire chief in Windsor for many years. Because of that, I developed an interest in public safety. I earned an associate’s degree in criminal justice at Midlands Technical College. I has hired by the Salley Police Department and graduated from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy, then received my bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Columbia College.

   In three months as a patrolman I made major arrests in a meth manufacturing case. That led to working at the Saluda County Sheriff’s Office with a focus on narcotics enforcement. The next year I was named police chief of the Ridge Spring Police Department, becoming one of the youngest chiefs in South Carolina history.

   In 2015, I returned to the Salley Police Department for a second tenure as chief of police and I’m still serving there today. 7 years as a police chief.

   I’m especially passionate about protecting citizens from drunk drivers. I know what that’s like, because a high school friend was killed in an alcohol-involved accident. My work was recognized by the Department of Public Safety’s 2017 DUI Hero award for the large number of prosecutable DUI arrests I made. I’m also a DUI instructor and am actively involved in fighting drug abuse.

   I lost one of my best friends and a former Marine sniper to the opioid epidemic. He become addicted to pain pills after a combat-related back injury and subsequent surgery. So this drug epidemic is personal to me. I’m tired of seeing families suffer because of it.

   Additionally, I’m a member of the Swansea Masonic Lodge, Scottish Rite of Columbia, Jamil Shriners, the South Carolina Police Chiefs Association, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Officers Association, Veterans of Foreign Wars and serve as a volunteer firefighter with Salley FD.       

   I learned law enforcement from the bottom up, which enables me to understand the profession inside and out. From patrol to administration.

   I’m ready to put my substantial experience and public service ethic to work for you, your family, and neighbors as Aiken County’s next sheriff.

   The Jail Report: The sheriff has supervision over a large number of people while you have not supervised many people as chief as Salley Police Chief. Should residents be concerned about your leadership abilities?

   Goldman: Residents should be concerned when a sitting sheriff brags about hiding scandals from the public, about violent gangs gaining a foothold in our schools, and a sheriff who plays favoritism when the law should be blind in its pursuit of justice. They should be concerned about Aiken County being in the top 10 for murders, robberies, and sexual batteries in South Carolina. They should be concerned with the growing human trafficking problem, out of control gangs, and shootings. To show you how far behind we are, the sheriff’s office hasn’t validated a single gang member in the SC Gangnet database since 2007.

   I was part of a team in Iraq that operated in the most dangerous areas for U. S. service members. I’ve driven military patrol vehicles down roads lined with IEDs. And I’ve volunteered to man a machine gun knowing I’d be a target for every terrorist trying to become a martyr. I know what it means to work for a common goal and I know the sacrifices that must be made in order to achieve it.

   When I returned home and joined local law enforcement, I quickly made my mark and became one of the youngest chiefs of police in South Carolina history. I earned this distinction not because of nepotism or through political connections, but because of my determination and ability to get things done.

   I learned law enforcement from the bottom up, which enables me to understand the profession inside and out. And I’ve never been part of the good old boy system of politics.

   My focus is – and always be – on getting things done and achieving effective results for everyone in Aiken County.

   The Jail Report: Sheriff Hunt won re-election in 2016 with 68 percent of the vote. What makes you think voters will unseat him?

   Goldman: After 16 years of Sheriff Hunt’s failed leadership, voters want change. It’s time for our sheriff to reflect our values. Voters want a sheriff who will protect our Second Amendment rights, work with the Trump Administration to stop illegal immigration, make our neighborhoods safer and begin a new era of full transparency and availability.

    The Jail Report: Tell us about your plan for one deputy per zone and how this differs from the current system.

   Goldman: While Aiken County is broken into 9 patrol zones, many of them only have one deputy. Because of that, deputies often have to back each other up on calls, leaving the people who live in that zone unprotected. I will implement “floater patrols” which will free up the zone deputies to patrol property and start in their zones. I’ll also implement a resident deputy program to interact with residents in each zone. They’ll get to know local businesses and build professional relationships with them. The deputy will know the community he serves inside and out. Local residents will become valuable tools in assisting criminal and narcotics investigators, too. This approach will also reduce the case loads of major investigations by taking on smaller investigations such as petty thefts and other smaller crimes.

    The Jail Report: How will you address the drug problem in Aiken County?

   Goldman: I will completely revamp the narcotics program and make sure we have the best trained and mission-driven investigators. I also plan to create 3 investigation regions for narcotics. Those investigators will focus on their region instead of trying to cover the entire county where rural areas are often left neglected. Making this change will produce accountability for individual investigators to show a correlation and build data in their region to determine increases and/or decreases in the illegal narcotics trade. I’ll also implement an intelligence officer who will enact a hot spot policing program to establish the best way to organize our deputies to effectively combat and reduce violent and drug crimes in high crime areas asking with a full time gang investigator.