Featured image: There are three candidates running for Guilford County Sheriff in the Democratic primary on May 17: Incumbent Danny Rogers, Juan Monjaras and Therron “TJ” Phipps. (courtesy photos)

On May 17, incumbent Guilford County Sheriff Danny Rogers will face off against two contenders in the Democratic primary in an effort to keep his seat. While there are several Republican candidates for Guilford County Sheriff, only three have filed on the Democratic side. Besides Rogers, who was first elected in 2018, candidates include Theron “TJ” Phipps and Juan Monjaras, both of whom have decades of their own law enforcement experience.

To cover the race, Triad City Beat sent out questionnaires to the three candidates about their work experience, their thoughts on police reform, deaths in the jails and racial inequities in policing.

Danny Rogers: Guilford’s first Black sheriff

Danny Rogers was first elected as Guilford County sheriff in 2018, unseating six-term incumbent Republican BJ Barnes to become the first Black sheriff of the county. Rogers was part of a wave of seven Black sheriffs who were elected that year in North Carolina, including Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough in Forsyth County, another Democrat. Kimbrough will not face a primary challenge in May but will have a GOP challenger come November.

Prior to becoming sheriff, Rogers worked in the Guilford County Detention Center from 1985-87 and as a High Point police officer from 1987-90. He also worked in the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office from 1990-93 and then had more than a 20-year-gap before being elected to sheriff in 2018.

Shortly after taking office, Rogers faced pushback from Republicans for terminating more than a dozen employees, saying it was common for new administrations to create new teams of staff. In 2019, Rogers faced renewed controversy, this time from immigrant activists about the office’s cooperation with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. A few months later, in July, Rogers signed an agreement with FaithAction International to recognize the use of the group’s ID cards by undocumented immigrants.

In 2020, the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office, under Rogers’ leadership, halted all eviction orders temporarily in the midst of the pandemic.

In response to the questionnaire, Rogers said that the biggest issues currently facing Guilford County are the lack of engagement between law enforcement and community members to help solve crimes as well as a lack of adequate pay for employees. He expressed an interest in providing “resources to strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and community,” but did not provide details on a specific plan.

When asked about the number of fatalities in the Guilford County jails, including the deaths of Tasha Thomas and Anna Chris Dominquez, Rogers appeared to place blame on the “major mental-health issues” of those who come through the jails.

“The breakdown in our system with the mental-health side continues to strain our county medical and catastrophic budget to the maximum,” he said. “Failure to address this issue will continue to put a strain on detention services all around the country.”

Currently, the Greensboro Police Department employs a co-response model of policing in which a mental-health professional may accompany a police officer on some calls. However, the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office does not have a program like that in place at present.

When it comes to the issue of police reform and racial disparities in policing, Rogers said he thought it was a “positive step for law enforcement and the community as a whole.”

He pointed to the agency’s efforts of “accountability,” as well as an increase in their training budget to provide specialized training.

However, previous reporting by TCB showed that as of July 2021, the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office had fallen behind some of its counterparts when it comes to reforming policies on use of force. When it came to the “8 Can’t Wait” policies pushed by activists nationally in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office had not implemented six of the eight policies including requiring verbal warnings before shooting, exhausting all alternatives before shooting, banning shooting at moving vehicles, implementing a use-of-force continuum and requiring comprehensive use-of-force reporting.

When asked about specific practices or policies he would support to address police reform, Rogers failed to respond. Instead, he talked about a broader outlook on the issue, stating that his office was “committed to breaking down barriers of culture and race by engaging with every community within Guilford County by communicating and learning how to understand their point of view.” He also said that leadership and training plays “a major part in racial disparities.”

Juan Monjaras: Focus on immigrant communities to be the “people’s sheriff”

Juan Monjaras makes the case that because of his decade of work within the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office, that he’s the best candidate to lead the office. According to Monjaras, he worked for more than nine years with the GCSO and a little more than a year with the Greensboro Police Department. During his time with GCSO, he worked as part of the civil-disturbance unit and was on the ground during the 2020 summer protests. That experience shaped his outlook on the future of policing more than anything, Monjaras said.

“I took away valuable information from the people that were protesting several killings by police,” he said. “I got the opportunity to talk to people and learn about their concerns.”

If a deputy uses deadly force on the job, Monjaras said he would immediately issue a press conference “as soon as all facts are known. This will be done to show transparency and accountability.”

As a Hispanic man, Monjaras said that he understands the frustrations of those protesting because he has been discriminated in the past because of his ethnicity. Still, he said that defunding the police, isn’t the answer. Instead, he pointed towards the implementation of a crisis-intervention team, where a crisis counselor would ride with a sheriff’s deputy on all mental health calls. He also stated that he would hire a diversity, equity and inclusion manager for the department.

“Diversity is a strength, not a threat,” Monjaras said.

Another one of Monjaras’ focuses is his consideration of the Hispanic population and their interactions with police.

“Currently, the Hispanic population and other large groups of minorities living in our county is growing,” he said. “As sheriff, I will make sure my team will have people that can communicate regardless of what language you speak.”

Monjaras also said he would work to “shine light on the common misconceptions regarding Immigration and Customs Enforcement, law enforcement and undocumented individuals,” because “many immigrants are fearful of admitting they have been a victim of a crime because they believe they will be removed from the United States.”

“I don’t agree when families and their kids are being terrorized by ICE in the middle of the night due to being charged with not having a driver’s license,” he said.

When it comes to deaths in the jails, Monjaras said the biggest issue is that the jails are under-resourced and underregulated.

“The jails have become a place where disadvantaged people are sent to languish,” he said.

To combat this, he said his office would ensure the jails are up to federal standards including on safety, supervision of inmates, rules and discipline, security and control, health care services, hygiene and sanitation and food services.

In addition to the condition of the jails, Monjaras said he is most concerned about the rise in homicides, home invasions, carjackings and gang issues.

“I believe I’m the best candidate to fill the role for Guilford County sheriff because I don’t cater to one specific race or gender,” Monjaras said. “I am campaigning on being ‘the people’s sheriff.’”

Therron “TJ” Phipps: Running on 28 years of law enforcement experience

Running for Guilford County Sheriff is not a new endeavor for Therron “TJ” Phipps. In 2018, Phipps ran against current Sheriff Danny Rogers in the Democratic primary, losing by about 15 percentage points. This time around, Phipps is touting his close to three decades of experience to unseat his former rival.

“I am the best candidate because I am a career law enforcement professional, former infantry commander in the US Army Reserve and dedicated public servant,” Phipps said.

In terms of experience, Phipps has the most of the three candidates when it comes to working in law enforcement. He is a retired Greensboro Police captain and a graduate of the FBI’s National Academy.

As one of his main concerns, Phipps noted the “distrust of law enforcement, particularly in communities of color.” In 2020, in reaction to the murder of George Floyd, Phipps, along with many others in the Greensboro community, signed a petition that urged state legislators to change NC’s police recordings law. The petition called for police body-camera footage to be made available to the public, as much as possible. When asked about his support of the petition, Phipps said he signed on because the process “has more room for improvement.”

“In general, I believe body-worn camera footage should be more easily accessible to the public, and when it cannot, a reason given as to why,” he said.

Additionally, Phipps said he would work to create a diversified workforce reflective of the community, provide implicit and explicit bias training as well as establish accountability of personnel to address racial disparities in policing.

One specific program he said he supports is the co-response policing model currently employed by the GPD in which calls involving people in the midst of a mental health crisis would be redirected to a separate team.

“Ultimately, these and any other initiatives considered by the sheriff’s office should be evidence-based, prevention-focused and problem-solving oriented,” Phipps said.

When it comes to deaths in the jails, Phipps said that under the current leadership, there have been “[delays] in notification to the public and lack of clarity surrounding the circumstances.” To remedy this, he advocated for all questionable deaths to be investigated by the State Bureau of Investigation “parallel to, but separate from the internal investigation within the agency. An after-action review and report including recommended changes to policies, procedures and protocols should also be required to prevent deaths from occurring where possible.”

To solve these problems, including the issue of recruitment and retention, Phipps said an experienced person is necessary to lead the department.

“I have a far more extensive background as a career law enforcement professional which includes some of the highest levels of leadership and executive training offered within the profession,” Phipps said. “These are just a few things that distinguish me from the incumbent and highlight a foundation of character, competence and care for the community.”

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