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Sheriff's forum gets heated
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Sheriff Tommy Myers talks about improvements that have been made at Warren County Jail during his term during a Southern Standard/ WCPI political forum on Monday night.
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Jackie Matheny Jr. says inmates should not be spending their time on tablets while serving their sentence at Warren County Jail.

Sheriff Tommy Myers and challenger Jackie Matheny Jr. went toe-to-toe Monday night during the Southern Standard/ WCPI political forum.

Early voting begins July 15 and Election Day is Aug. 4 in the race for Warren County Sheriff.

Myers talked of the accomplishments he’s made at Warren County Jail during his nearly four years as sheriff, while Matheny Jr. painted the sheriff as being soft on crime and allowing inmates to spend their days on tablets.

Said Myers of his upgrades at the jail, “The inmates were tearing our jail apart. They were tearing all the lights out, tearing up our toilets, our sinks and our locks. It was a mess in our jail in 2018. We have since cleaned all that up. Our jail had not been certified since 2012. The state had us under a plan of action. The state, I’m very thankful, gave me an opportunity to lay our plan out and I did. I laid out detail after detail and thankfully they allowed me to follow that plan. I’m proud to say we’ve had our jail certified the last two years and we will be certified again for the third straight year by the way.”

That wasn’t the image Matheny Jr. conveyed in talking about the jail.

“Let’s talk about a soft-on-crime mentality that’s seeping into our county,” said Matheny Jr. 

Matheny Jr. continued, “When we’re cutting inmates' time in half, giving everybody trustee status, we’re putting violent criminals back on the street and making Warren County less safe. When we give them tablets where they can stream movies, listen to music and watch podcasts, it’s like we’re rewarding them for criminal behavior. These policies, I cannot get behind. If you elect me your sheriff, I promise you I’ll do everything in my power, work with every agency federal, state, and local to make Warren County the safest place to live for me, you, your children and your grandchildren.”

Myers pointed out the Sheriff’s Department is in charge of law enforcement and it’s up to the courts to determine how much jail time a person receives.

“To make something very clear, the sheriff has nothing to do with sentencing,” said Myers. “I’ve been there over 30 years. My entire career, inmates have gotten good days. If you work inmates, which I promise I do, I’ve saved the county thousands of dollars in doing so. When they do work, they do get credit for that. That’s been the process for my entire career.”

Matheny Jr. contends dangerous criminals are getting put back on the streets too soon and he says there’s no chance to rehabilitate some offenders.

“There’s an element of society that’s not going to do any better and we have to stand with the victims of crime,” said Matheny Jr. “When we start getting lax on that with this soft mentality on crime and cutting our inmates’ sentences in half, letting them have tablets to watch movies and stuff, that’s not by the state. If I’m elected sheriff, I’m going to do everything in my power to stand with the law-abiding citizens, to make Warren County the safety place for you and your children.”


SCHOOL SAFETY


The candidates for sheriff were asked questions, one of which was about school safety.

On how best to improve school safety, Matheny Jr. said, “It’s training, training, training for our officers. Right now we’re not prepared for something like what happened in Texas. If we think about it, if we have a school shooting here in town, who will be the first ones responding to that? It will be the city police department. Do we train with the police department? No, we do not. We haven’t in a long time. We have to work together. Our department has to work with the city. We have to know the layouts of the schools in our county. We need to know Irving College. We need to know Dibrell. We need to know Centertown to make us more prepared.”

Myers pointed out the Sheriff’s Department has a school resource officer at every school who is ready to respond immediately to a threat.

“We constantly train more than any department around us,” said Myers. “Just a few weeks ago, all of our SROs attended a FBI training academy for an active shooter. A lot of what happened in Texas recently, I know it’s on everyone’s mind, if a bad guy comes to any of our schools, we have highly trained officers at each of those schools and they will go directly to the threat. Anyone there to hurt any of our children or our teachers, they are trained to go straight to the threat. You will not hear me say stand back, wait up, don’t go in. We won’t wait for backup, we won’t wait for a SWAT team. We won’t wait for the city police. We’re already there. We are there to protect.”


OTHER COMMENTS


Sheriff Myers is proud of the work he’s done at the jail and mentioned that progress several times during the forum. 

“Our jail is better than it’s ever been. The state says we’ve come from the bottom of jails in Tennessee to near the top of jails in Tennessee. I take that very heavily,” said Myers. “The state who inspects all of our jails is really behind us. I know my opponent mentioned tablets earlier. Those tablets ladies and gentleman are backed by the state. Those tablets have things on them that the state requires by law to have for the inmates. And they are at no cost to taxpayers … Inmates have always been able to watch movies and watch whatever they want to watch. The other thing we don’t allow them to watch is watch the news. But they’ve always been able to watch movies and listen to music.”

Myers added, “Years ago, it was lock them up and throw away the key. That mentality is gone. That’s the old-school thinking. Moving forward, this is a different world and we’re trying to help people instead of just locking them up.”

Matheny Jr. said he will place an emphasis on getting the DARE program going at full speed at all schools. And he said he plans to be highly visible around the community if he's elected sheriff.

“I’ll be the face of the department,” said Matheny Jr. “You’ll see me. You’ll hear from me. I want to get back in the school system. It’s very important the sheriff knows these children and these children know who the sheriff is and talk to our kids about drugs and the dangers of other things. It’s not just drugs.”

On the homeless situation, Matheny Jr. said, “A lot of them I don’t consider homeless. They don’t want to do any better. They want to set up and do their dope and get high and it’s aggravating law-abiding citizens. If I’m sheriff, I going to stand by the law-abiding citizens and if we have to arrest them (the homeless) for breaking the law that’s what we’ll do.”