Republican Freddie Gault and Democrat David Taylor are seeking to become Union County's first new sheriff in 16 years. Taylor defeated four-term incumbent Howard Wells for the Democratic nomination in June. Gault is making his second bid for sheriff, having previously run against Wells in the Democratic primary in 2004.
Gault, a Union County native, is a 1979 graduate of Union High School and attended USC-Union for two years during which he served with the Union County Ambulance Service (EMS). He began his career in law enforcement in 1982 with the S.C. Department of Corrections Maximum Security Unit. In 1987, he joined the Union Public Safety Department where he holds the rank of captain. He is a member of the S.C. Law Enforcement Officers Association and serves on the organization's board of directors representing the 16th Judicial Circuit.
Taylor, a Union County native, graduated from Jonesville High School in 1974 and attended USC-Union. He joined the Union Police Department in 1978 and worked there until joining the sheriff's office in 1981 where he remained for 12 years. Taylor was the county's public works director from 1993-1995. He then went to work for the Spartanburg County Environmental Services Division. After retiring from government service in 2005, Taylor went to work for Olber Inc., a Charlotte, N.C.-based engineering firm. He resigned from the company Dec. 31 to run for sheriff.
Both men said they will target illegal drugs if elected sheriff.
Gault, who took a leave of absence to run for office, said he will increase cooperation with law enforcement agencies in neighboring counties to fight drug-trafficking. He said this would be done through a multi-jurisdictional task force that he said would bring additional manpower to bear on the drug problem, which crosses county lines.
“By forming a multi-jurisdictional task force with surrounding counties, we'd be able to bring in more manpower for drug investigations, drug arrests and drug sweeps,” he said. “We've done this in the past with agents from Newberry and Chester counties as well as federal agents. We worked with federal agents in the past and I want us to work with them again and with agents from surrounding counties and have an effective drug unit.
“Some of the drugs being sold here in the county are being sold by the same people who are selling them in surrounding counties,” he said. “The only way to stop this is by working together with agents from surrounding counties and the federal government.”
Gault said that federal involvement is especially important as the federal system provides law enforcement with more tools to go after drug dealers on drug and weapons violations. He said federal involvement also gives local law enforcement more weapons to go after gangs.
“Some people don't want to admit it, but we've got a gang problem here in Union County,” Gault said. “It's not as big as in Greenville or Charleston, but they're here, they're territorial and they call themselves gangs. By going after them through the federal system, we can prosecute them as an organization under the RICO anti-racketeering act. We can prosecute the whole gang, not just individual members as we'd have to in state court.
“Many people involved in drug-trafficking carry weapons and they face much more serious penalties if prosecuted on drug and weapons violation in the federal system,” he said. “Also, in many cases drug dealers send their drugs into this county but don't actually come here. Working with the federal system allows us to go after them even if they never set foot in Union County.”
Gault pointed out that working with federal authorities in the past allowed local law enforcement to put more then 300 people in federal prison on drug and weapons charges. He said this can be done again if the county's relationship with federal law enforcement is restored.
Taylor said his first priority will be drug enforcement. He said drugs are a growing problem and will require a comprehensive, cooperative approach to combat them. He said he will re-establish the county drug task force to bring law enforcement agencies together to crack down on drug trafficking.
The support of the people of Union County will be an important part of this renewed anti-drug effort. To facilitate this, Taylor said he will have an open door policy so that the people of Union County can feel free to come and talk to him about any and all concerns they have about drugs and other law enforcement-related problems.
“Cracking down on drugs is the key to the livability of our county,” he said. “People have come to me expressing their concerns about having access to the sheriff's office. I will have an open door policy that will provide them with that access and will treat seriously any information they bring me about drugs and other crimes. I feel like the people of Union County are ready to take this county in a new direction.”
Taylor said he would also emphasize crime prevention if he is elected sheriff.
“It's easy to put people in jail, it's harder to be proactive and keep them out of jail,” he said. “My goal is to be proactive and prevent crime.”
Taylor said he especially wants to be proactive where children are concerned. He said he wants to work with the schools, churches and other groups to educate children on the dangers of drugs, alcohol and gangs. The program would also educate children on how getting a criminal record at an early age can ruin the rest of their lives.
The proactive approach would also include an active crime prevention program for the county that would include its senior citizens. Taylor said this would be organized through the senior citizens centers and senior citizens activities at local churches. He said these would be ideal forums to educate seniors citizens on how to be avoid being the victims of fraud and to protect their homes from burglars.
Gault said he also wants to be proactive and prevent people - particularly young people - from becoming criminals. He said the sheriff's office should work through the schools and other groups to build trust between youth and law enforcement and guide young people away from criminal activity.
“I would rather spend my time preventing young people from going to jail than spend it putting them in jail,” he said.
Gault said he also wants deputies to be trained in how to tackle white collar crime in the Internet age and help protect the elderly from scams.
“White collar crime is a type of crime that continues to rise because of the computer age,” he said. “I want our deputies to better trained so as to be better able to keep up with the changes in white collar crime and be better able to effectively combat it.
“Also, we're seeing a lot of scams targeting our senior citizens,” he said. “I want our deputies to be trained to combat those scams and assist our seniors by making them aware of the scams that are out there.”
Gault said he also wants to have a chaplain in the sheriff's office. He said he's talked to a number of clergymen who are in favor of the idea.
“Lots of other counties have this and it can help our deputies in dealing with life and death situations as well as personnel and family matters,” he said. “Also, the worst part about this job is when we have to go to a home and notify people of a loved one's death. With a chaplain to go with the deputy, there's a trained professional who can help break the news and provide the family with a counseling resource.”
Taylor said the sheriff's office is 15 years behind the rest of law enforcement when it comes to technology. He said he will upgrade the office's technology to give deputies all the tools they need to fight crime.
Other programs Taylor said he wants to establish are litter control program to help clean up the county; a chaplain program to assist the victim's advocate office; and will ask county council to cut his salary by $5,000 and use it to fund an employee assistance program for deputies and their families. He said the employee assistance program will provide counseling, budget management assistance, anger management and other services to deputies and their families at no cost to the employees.
To help fund these programs and technology upgrades, Taylor said he would seek state and federal grants. He said that grants are plentiful and the county has an excellent chance of obtaining them. Taylor said he's experienced at doing this, having obtained over $400,000 in grants through DHEC when he worked for Spartanburg County.