Charles sheriff candidates face off in FOP debate
Berry decries fake websites created by member of Coffey’s command staff
A Sunday afternoon debate between Charles County Sheriff Rex Coffey and candidate Troy Berry ended with allegations of a series of false websites created by a member of Coffey’s camp to hinder the Berry campaign.
In a debate sponsored by the Fraternal Order of Police, Berry was given the chance to make the final closing statement after Coffey had his turn. Toward the end of his statement, Berry told the packed house at the Waldorf Jaycees center that it had recently come to his attention that several fake URLs had been circulating the Internet. The campaign’s official site, troyberry4sheriff.com, Berry said, is the sole correct one.
Berry said they knew of at least three more: troyberry4sheriff.org, berryforsheriff.com and troyberryforsheriff.com. According to Berry, all three of those sites are registered to Maj. Joseph “Buddy” Gibson, Coffey’s second in command at the sheriff’s office. A reporter’s search to verify domain ownership concluded the same.
All three sites have the same content: a bright yellow page with “Berry for Sheriff. Much more to come” in bold black lettering. It was not immediately clear if the sites had ever featured other content.
Gibson was in the audience at the sheriff’s debate. When asked for a comment after the debate had ended, he told a reporter, “Just go check out the sites and see what they’re about. Check them out. Anyone can say anything about it.”
The rest of the debate was derived from 19 questions the FOP had given the candidates two weeks prior to the debate. From there, the debate questions were determined. The questions centered on issues of ethics in the department, along with staffing and morale issues and how the two candidates would work to accommodate the county’s shifting demographics.
“I’m hearing an overwhelming message: it’s time for a change,” Berry said of what he has observed on the campaign trail and out in the community thus far. “I will be a positive example for the men and women of the Charles County Sheriff’s Office. … My number one priority will be making the office a national model for fighting crime and proactive policing.”
When asked how he differs from Berry, Coffey said he “is totally committed to what I’ve done. I do what I say I’m going to do.”
“What differentiates me? Not a whole lot. We’re both good people,” Coffey said. “Everything I do is connected. I am totally committed … and I’ve lowered crime to some unbelievable rates.”
Berry said he differs from Coffey in his managerial style and his overall temperament.
“I consider myself a very approachable person,” Berry said. “We may disagree on particular issues, but I will remain professional at all costs. I am not a person who … micromanages everyday tasks. Furthermore, I consider myself a person looking to move the agency in 2014 further from where it is currently.”
“When you do the job of sheriff … you have a lot of decisions to make and they’re not always easy,” Coffey said of what he feels makes one an ethical officer, stressing his integrity. “I vowed when I got this job that I wouldn’t do anything to keep me out of heaven. I vow not to let only myself down, but my family and God, so I’m a person of integrity.”
“Ethics in law enforcement is paramount,” Berry said. “Their conduct and demeanor in the court carries weight. As the sheriff it’s critical to hire people that don’t bring baggage to the police department. ... If you have a department with integrity issues it causes a wedge in the community, and you can’t have that.”
“What I’ve done since I came into office speaks for itself,” Coffey said when asked how he would work with demographic shifts. “We don’t hire anyone who doesn’t meet minimum qualifications. As for the community, I think just the fact that I mentor an African-American child that’s become a part of my family, the fact that I care about the kid so deeply, and I go to all the schools … I don’t have to do those things. I care about everybody. I believe in doing the right thing. It’s an easy thing for me.”
Berry cited his own community involvement and work with the youth.
“Everyone is a leader,” Berry said. “You’re either leading them in the right direction or the wrong direction. I would have some of the officers who are willing engage the youth … and let them know if they don’t do what needs to be done it might restrict them in the future.”
Issues of morale in the office drew markedly different responses from the two candidates.
“Give officers the moon and they want the stars,” Coffey said. “I say that because I used to be one. The morale at this office is no different from any other in the country. … Morale is a state of mind. The last thing we want to do is hurt anyone. Morale will always be fickle, certainly. Anyone who works with me knows … I have done everything humanly possible to keep morale up.”
“Morale is low at the sheriff’s office,” Berry said plainly. “Last year, we took a no-confidence vote in this administration. The agency is divided. We can’t just say that patrol, for example, is the backbone of the agency and not give them the tools to succeed. Morale and the motivation are the core fundamentals … of a positive working environment. I worked my way up in this agency. If elected, I will not forget where I came from.”