First elected in 2002, Republican Bill Schatzman is seeking a fifth term as Forsyth County sheriff. He faces one challenger in the Republican primary, and three Democrats are competing for the opportunity to oppose him in the November general election.
Bill Schatzman, the former FBI agent who is seeking a fifth term as Forsyth County sheriff, faces a quartet of challengers calling for more robust drug interdiction, crime-scene investigation and law-enforcement presence in schools, while calling attention to conditions in the jail.
Schatzman said he’s proud that during his 16-year tenure as sheriff, the county’s crime rate has gone down by 40 percent. He also expressed pride that Forsyth County is regularly reaccredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. Sheriff BJ Barnes, Schatzman’s counterpart in Guilford County, allowed his agency’s accreditation to lapse, Barnes arguing that it merely provides a scapegoat when things go wrong.
“This is a full-service accredited law enforcement agency,” Schatzman said. “There’s no difference between this agency and the NYPD or LAPD. We recruit the same quality of people. We test them the same way mentally, and physically and intellectually. We provide them the same equipment. We apply all of those same procedures and policies. We were reaccredited in 2013 and then again in ’16. This is an agency that is respected. Other sheriff’s offices and police departments come to us. We are a leader in the law enforcement community. I’m proud of that due to the hard work of the leadership and the rank and file who do the work in the street.”
Schatzman squeaked through a Republican primary with 52.0 percent of the vote in 2014. This year, Schatzman faces Ernie Leyba, a former sheriff’s deputy, in the Republican primary. Leyba, who did not return calls for this story, is listed as a delivery specialist for Harris Teeter grocery stores in his LinkedIn profile. He previously worked as a sheriff’s deputy in Forsyth County from 2000 to 2002, the year Schatzman defeated former sheriff Ron Barker in the Republican primary. Leyba went on to work as a police officer in Durham, according to his LinkedIn profile.
In contrast to four years ago, when Schatzman ran unopposed in the general election, three candidates have filed for the Democratic primary. But don’t assume they’re all on the same ideological page. Clifton Kilby, who retired as a deputy from the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, ran four years ago as Republican, garnering only 8.2 percent of the vote. (Dave Griffith, another Republican challenger, took 39.9 percent of the vote.) Kilby switched parties, he said, because he didn’t anticipate there would be any other Democratic candidates and thought his odds would improve on the Democratic ticket. Tim Wooten, a private investigator who was fired from his job as a sheriff’s deputy in 2010, describes himself on his website as a “lifelong Democrat.” Bobby Kimbrough Jr., a retired special agent with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, says he wants to tackle the opioid crisis.
Despite his opponents’ extensive law enforcement background, Schatzman offered a dismissive assessment of them in an interview with Triad City Beat.
“It’s easy for someone who knows little about what goes on here and certainly very little about law enforcement to say we need 10 more of that, or 10 more of this,” he said.
All three Democratic candidates say they want to increase staffing on the narcotics unit.
“We expanded our narcotics unit from about three or four officers to about 10,” said Wooten, who served in the sheriff’s office from 1985 to 1995, and then again from 2003 to 2010. “And we had one of the most notorious narcotics units in the area; we worked with all the big task forces. We brought in a lot of dope back in those days.” He added that under Schatzman, the number of sworn officers assigned to the unit has gone back down to three.
Schatzman said he wouldn’t comment on how many employees are currently assigned to the unit.
“What we do in the sheriff’s office is we apply the resources that we are provided in a manner that is considerate of the needs of the community,” he said.
Shortly after filing for sheriff, Kimbrough published an article in Forsyth Woman about his wife’s unexpected death in 2005 from a reported methadone overdose.
“With the number-one problem across the country [being] the opioid epidemic, it’s shameful we haven’t had the resources to combat that when we’re losing people every day,” Kimbrough told voters at a candidate forum hosted by the Clemmons Democrats on April 14. Kimbrough also said the sheriff’s office needs to build relationships with federal agencies to bring money back to the county from the sale of drug dealers’ assets.
Schatzman countered in an interview: “We work hand in glove with the other agencies — the city police in Winston-Salem and Kernersville. We work hand in glove with the FBI. We have personnel. We’ll be assigned to the Safe Streets unit in Greensboro. We will have an asset in the Joint Terrorism Task Force.”
Wooten said he established a crime-scene investigation unit for the department in 1985 under then-Sheriff Preston Oldham. While conceding that the decision to collaborate with the Winston-Salem Police Department on evidence storage and analysis saved the agency money, he said he opposes Schatzman’s decision to outsource crime-scene investigations to the city police.
“I want to bring that crime-scene unit back to the sheriff’s office,” Wooten said. “We were different from the city. Our CSIs were sworn deputies so they could go out on a call on their own…. [Now] a deputy has to stay there with the CSI. They are unarmed and non-sworn and they have no way to protect themselves.”
Schatzman disparaged Wooten’s account as “not accurate, not factual,” even stating that his opponent had nothing to do with the crime-scene unit. Schatzman said the sheriff’s office secures a crime scene the same way that the city police do, but he acknowledged that the CSIs contracted through the city are not sworn, in contrast to the investigators who previously worked for the sheriff’s office.
The three Democratic candidates also said they would like to assign more deputies to schools in unincorporated parts of the county through the school resource officer program. Schatzman noted that the school system is responsible for paying for officers assigned to schools, adding that he serves on an inter-agency board that’s looking into school shootings. “We are because of the dangerous times we live in looking into it,” he said. “It’s a complex issue and we’re moving forward with it as quickly as we can. It might not be quick enough for some.”
Wooten said he wants to see a deputy assigned to every elementary school.
“Sandy Hook showed us that our little kids, our elementary kids were vulnerable for just being at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Wooten said at the Democratic Party gathering in Clemmons. “These are what we call in the business ‘soft targets’…. We’ve got homegrown terrorists, and wouldn’t it be just like them to go into an elementary school that holds 400 kids and hold them hostage to get their way?”
The three Democratic candidates have all raised the issue of medical care in the jail while highlighting recent inmate deaths. Two men died of medical-related issues in the Forsyth County jail in May 2017. Before that, TCB reported extensively on the death of Jen McCormack, who died from a heart attack in 2014 after medical staff allegedly failed to provide her with prescribed anti-nausea medication. TCB’s reporting on fatalities in the Forsyth and Guilford county jails, which both contract medical services with Correct Care Solutions, uncovered a pattern of health crises linked to lack of access to common medications and lack of timely medical care.
“I would hold them accountable,” Kilby said. “The sheriff was pointing the finger at the medical company. If I was the sheriff and I knew the medical company was at fault I would be jumping up and down when it came to renewing the contract. That wasn’t the case.”
Wooten said he would want to look at the county’s request for proposals to determine why no other vendors bid on the contract.
Schatzman praised Correct Care Solutions as “a well-respected medical practitioner.”
“The sheriff is not responsible for the medical wellbeing; that is the responsibility of the public health director and the county commissioners,” he said. “You understand that generally the inmates are not a well population. They suffer from varied medical illnesses. Substance abuse is very prevalent. Mental health issues is rampant.”
Schatzman noted that state regulators investigate all deaths in the jail.
“We’re good with that,” he said. “We’re good with the performance that we’re aware of. It’s unfortunate that people die. You know as well as I do that sometimes it’s unavoidable. If it is avoidable then we take appropriate action. People die in hospital settings. People die in rest-home settings.”
Wooten and Kilby said some of the safety issues at the jail could be addressed by filling vacancies, noting that about 50 positions are open in the jail and 20 are open in patrol. Schatzman said law enforcement agencies across the country encountered challenges recruiting millennials in 2015 and 2016, but the sheriff’s office has continued to make headway and Schatzman said he expects the agency’s vacancy rate to be down to 5 percent by the summer.
Wooten was one of 22 people fired after the 2010 election. Prior to his firing, Wooten received the Rufus Dalton Award from the Winston-Salem Foundation for leaving his car in the path of a drunk driver and absorbing the blow to protect a highway paving crew on Interstate 40. Wooten said that at the time he was fired he was only told that his services were no longer needed.
“That’s not why I’m coming back,” Wooten said. “Over the past eight years I’ve run my own private investigative firm. I’m coming back because it concerns me what they’re doing to the sheriff’s office. People are not getting the service they deserve.”
Kilby said some of his fellow deputies asked him to run for sheriff in 2010, but he was afraid he would get fired and risk losing benefits available upon his retirement the following year.
As TCB has previously reported, the Kimbrough campaign has raised $10,000 out of $11,000 reported in his most recent filing from individuals associated with the internet sweepstakes industry. Kimbrough did not respond to inquiries, including addressing how he would handle enforcement in an industry with substantial legal ambiguity. Cynthia Hagie, Kimbrough’s campaign manager, said she recruited him to run and solicited the donations on his behalf. Hagie said on Sunday that she and Kimbrough had decided he should not comment for this story.