Douglas County sheriff candidates address budget experience, release of records and more
photo by: Contributed Photos
Just a few days remain until the Democratic primary that will likely decide the next Douglas County sheriff.
The candidates — in the order that they filed, Lt. Jay Armbrister, Deputy Dale Flory and Capt. Doug Woods — are all longtime employees of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. Voters will soon decide which one of them will be the next boss.
The Journal-World asked the candidates a few more questions this week that the newspaper has heard from readers.
What experiences have you had that prepare you to manage a multimillion-dollar budget?
The sheriff oversees a budget of approximately $15.68 million, according to Douglas County budget documents.
Woods, 52, said that as a captain for the last 15 years, he has built a budget for the division he supervised and ensured that purchases don’t exceed the budget.
“That required me to conduct research on different types of equipment and specialized training. I had to do cost comparisons on those items and trainings,” he said via email. He also had to submit a budget proposal to the sheriff with his recommendations on staffing, such as where personnel should be added.
Flory, 45, said that having grown up on a family farm, he’s familiar with working within a budget. As a member of Willow Springs Fire District No. 3, he helps oversee the use of taxpayer funds for capital improvements and operating expenses, he said.
Armbrister’s experience with the sheriff’s office budget has been “limited at best,” he said, but he would lean on a longtime agency employee who works solely on the budget. Armbrister, 44, said his undersheriff candidate, Capt. Stacy Simmons, has also had a great influence on the budget, especially with jail contracts and costs.
What is your stance on releasing inmates’ booking photos to the newspaper?
As the Journal-World has reported, the sheriff’s office has at times declined to make available booking photos of some offenders, even after they’ve been convicted. Though it’s ultimately the sheriff’s decision whether a photo is released, sometimes the district attorney’s office opposes the release of a photo for cases in which a witness’ identification of the suspect is key.
Flory said he believes that as a general practice, booking photos should be available for public access regardless of the allegations against the person.
Armbrister and Woods both said they generally wouldn’t have a problem releasing booking photos, but they would work with the DA’s office when victim/witness identification could be an issue in a case.
Would you release previous years’ use of force reports?
The sheriff’s office has not published an annual report since the 2016 report, the Journal-World has reported. Those documents are about 40 pages long, on average, and packed full of data on the Douglas County Jail’s population, bookings, demographics, inmate health, programs, staffing, training and more.
However, information on officer uses of force within the jail — documentation of uses of pepper spray, Tasers or restraints, for instance — has not been included in the annual reports since the one covering 2013.
All three candidates said they would release any reports and data that has not yet been released.
Have you ever been suspended with or without pay?
Armbrister and Flory both denied ever being suspended from work.
Woods said he had been placed on an administrative suspension without pay for one day, 20-plus years ago, for a violation of office policy. He did not immediately respond to a follow-up email or phone message Thursday asking for more information about the nature and circumstances of that policy violation.
What will you do if you’re not elected?
Unlike in most local races, the runners-up in the race for sheriff will have to work for the candidate who wins. During a recent forum, the candidates were asked what they would do to support the winner if not elected.
Flory said he hoped he’d still have a job, since everyone works at the discretion of the sheriff. But he said he would serve, be a strong advocate for the winner and do what he can to help lead the department.
Woods said he would continue doing what he’s doing. He said the candidates have some varying opinions on the issues, but each one of them wants the best for the sheriff’s office. He said they have to work together, and he would be willing to help them because that’s what’s best for Douglas County.
Armbrister said if Woods or Flory wins, he would seek employment elsewhere. Asked to clarify his reasons, he said he’s worked under Woods before and would not do so again, but he didn’t give any specific reasons why. He also said he “cannot be the loyal and supportive employee” that Flory’s administration deserves, and that it would be “difficult at best” for him to do the work that he feels needs to be done.
Was Armbrister’s investigation of a sex crime up to agency standards?
Armbrister previously told the Journal-World that he lost a recording of an interview with an alleged sexual assault victim, but department policy states that all such interviews should be kept.
The defendant in the ongoing case is charged with a high-level felony, and his defense attorney had filed a motion to dismiss the case due to “destruction of exculpatory evidence,” and to suppress the statements of the complaining witness. The judge ultimately denied both motions, and he wrote in his ruling that the evidence does not “reveal bad faith by the law enforcement officers involved.”
However, the judge pointed out several missing pieces in the investigation, such as physical evidence not collected from the scene and witnesses not interviewed. Armbrister was the supervisor involved in that investigation in July 2017.
Asked whether, in hindsight, the investigation was up to his standards or whether it would be up to his standards if he were sheriff, Armbrister said it was not. However, he said his actions were “directly in support of the victim/survivor and her welfare” and that any errors made were not intentional.
“She (the alleged victim) needed support while we also needed to conduct some evidentiary assessments, which yielded significant evidence,” he said via email. “I fully admit that I did not record my conversation with her on the way to the hospital where I asked her clarifying questions, or if I did record it, I did not save the recording for the courts to consider. I stand by my statement that this was an error and I will explain it to any jury or court.”
He also noted that the issues with the investigation were brought up by defense counsel.
Did Woods once crash his patrol vehicle with his child inside?
Yes — about 18 years ago, Woods said, he had to pick up his young son because no other family members were able to watch him. He was involved in a crash at 23rd and Iowa streets, he said. It was a policy violation to have his son in the car and his lieutenant spoke with him about it, but he was not written up and did not receive any discipline, he said.
Has Flory ever applied for a promotion, and what supervisory experience does he have?
Flory said that more than 22 years ago, he was promoted to corporal in the old downtown jail prior to being promoted to deputy. The rank of corporal is no longer recognized in the agency, he said.
“I actually did apply for a promotion to detective, but that spot was filled by a retired Lawrence Police Department Detective,” he said via email.
Flory said he’s been the officer in charge, or OIC, on many occasions in every division in which he’s served. He has also overseen the agency’s transport and court security divisions for interim periods when the sergeants in charge retired, he said.
“I believe my knowledge, experience and servant leadership style suits me well for leading the sheriff’s office into the future,” he said via email. “I have always felt a need to connect with the people we serve on a personal level. I want to instill the servant leadership style upon all staff at the sheriff’s office.”
The Democratic primary is Tuesday. It will most likely decide the next sheriff, as no Republicans filed for the seat.
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More 2020 election coverage: Douglas County sheriff race
• May 29, 2020: Douglas County undersheriff withdraws from race for sheriff
• April 21, 2020: Captain files to run for Douglas County Sheriff in 2020 election
• Oct. 16, 2018: Lieutenant files to run for Douglas County sheriff in 2020