by Eric Ginsburg
Long-time Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes is going head to head with a former department employee, Danny Rogers, in the election and they have significant criticism for each other.
BJ Barnes admits that part of the reason he is running for re-election is selfishness.
“To be quite frank with you, I don’t want to retire and sit at home,” he said. “The selfish part is that I love what I’m doing. I love the people I’m doing it for and I love the people I’m doing it with.”
Barnes has been in office since 1994, making him the longest serving sheriff in Guilford County’s history, according to his campaign website. There are plenty of things he’s proud of accomplishing during that time, but his opponent Danny Rogers is critical of Barnes’ tenure. Barnes, in turn, has plenty to say about Rogers’ personal record.
After moving through several of his talking points, such as the offices he’s built with confiscated drug money rather than tax dollars or a significant reduction in the crime rate, Barnes mentions, almost as a throwaway line, that he has significant experience in the seat while his opponent has a criminal record.
Danny Rogers, a former law-enforcement officer, has 16 different criminal charges on his rap sheet, and while most were dismissed, Barnes said that’s not the kind of person who should run the sheriff’s office.
“That’s not the type of leadership we need in Guilford County,” Barnes said. “There’s just so much that screams out. This man running against me could not get a job as a police officer or sheriff’s deputy but if the voters elect him he could become sheriff.”
Sitting in his small office at Love & Faith Christian Fellowship Church in south Greensboro, Danny Rogers told a different story.
Working as a detention officer in Guilford County, a High Point police officer and a Guilford County sheriff’s deputy, Rogers saw patterns of discrimination, mistreatment of inmates and county residents and a lack of community trust.
“I saw where equality needed to be addressed, especially in the sheriff’s office,” Roger said.
He left the department and law enforcement in general in 1993, he said, a year before Barnes took office, but he has seen those patterns continue. Rogers referenced EEOC complaints against Barnes’ department over the years, but focused his comments on what he characterized as unfair promotion and disciplinary policies that kept a “good-old-boy” system in place.
“He is more of a politician than a sheriff,” Rogers said, criticizing Barnes’ endorsement of conservative candidates like Mark Walker. “It’s not about us. It’s never been about us. He serves his own purposes. I have very little respect when I look at what he’s done in our community.”
Barnes, without prompting, talked about the seven rules that govern his office, including one stating he will not tolerate racism and another that he will not tolerate sexism. He also said that any investigations of EEOC complaints against the department and its employees have exonerated them.
Barnes said Rogers has been ambiguous or misleading about his criminal record and why he left law enforcement. Rogers has three dropped charges for assault on a female, a worthless-check conviction and “numerous other charges,” Barnes said, and while Rogers said he left to pursue other lines of work voluntarily, Barnes said Rogers was fired from the department.
Rogers, who started off an interview talking about the importance of transparency, paused briefly and then went on the offensive against Barnes when his criminal record was raised.
“I’ve had some issues,” he admitted. “Life has gone on and I’ve gotten better.”
Rogers said he has convictions for writing a worthless check and another for reckless driving when he was young, but said he wasn’t “going to get into the weeds” about other charges he’s faced.
Then he switched to talking about budget cuts Barnes has made. He said detention officers in the jail stage fights between inmates, and referenced an inmate who was found dead in his cell last year.
Barnes scoffed at the allegation about staging fights.
“Not only is that an out-and-out lie, that’s ridiculous,” Barnes said. “We have cameras up there 24/7. We have supervisors on floor and on post 24/7. They watch everything that’s going on. This guy is watching too many bad movies. These guys up here are professionals. This surely smells of desperation on his part.”
Barnes also said the department hasn’t found any wrongdoing in the death of an inmate during his tenure, and that they always call in outside investigators so the public can trust the findings.
Barnes is proud of the new jail, adding that he wants to continue adding outreach programs and keep working to reduce recidivism by providing job training, coping skills and teaching inmates how to fill out resumes.
“It’s as positive as a jail can be,” Barnes said. “We’re always attempting to better what we do. I want to continue giving Guilford County citizens the law enforcement they deserve and that they pay for.”
Barnes also said that the department “is a leader in the law-enforcement business” and that he receives weekly requests for information so other departments across the country can emulate his successes.
Barnes focused on one number in particular: 56 percent. That’s how much crime has dropped in the unincorporated areas of Guilford County and seven towns that don’t have their own law-enforcement agencies — such as the city police in Greensboro and High Point — during his tenure, he said.
Rogers said those numbers are inaccurate and hard to believe but an examination of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report database bears out Barnes’ claim.
Amid his criticism of Barnes, Rogers returned to himself, saying that accountability and transparency would be hallmarks of his leadership and that he has nothing to hide.
In talking about the lack of community trust and the disproportionate number of black men filling the jail, Rogers said the county needs someone who will listen and take a proactive approach to helping people turn their lives around. And who better to do that, he said, than someone who understands where they’ve come from, what they’ve been through?
Rogers found God and turned his life around, he said, and is running for office because he has a vision and plan that God has given him to put to work. He started running for the office two years ago, he said, to implement that vision of unity and justice. “I want people to be open-minded about who I am and look towards the future,” Rogers said.