Sheriff candidates debate

COUNTY — On Monday night, the three remaining candidates for Pickens County Sheriff on the ballot for next month’s Republican primary — Billy Looper, Rick Clark and current sheriff C. David Stone — answered questions before a standing-room-only crowd at the Farm Bureau office on Highway 178 between Pickens and Liberty.
Hosted by the Pickens County Taxpayers Association, the forum featured PCTA president Dennis Reinert asking the candidates to speak on issues of importance to the people of Pickens County. After these formal questions were asked and answered, audience members were given the opportunity to question the candidates as well.
While Looper, Clark and Stone were asked a wide range of questions, the topics of greatest concern to the crowd concerned the second amendment and gun control, crime rates in Pickens County and federal government intervention at the state level.
Reinert asked each candidate to state his position on the second amendment and asked whether or not gun control should be further regulated and restricted in Pickens County.
“We have enough (regulation of guns), and I don’t see why we should regulate it any more than it already is,” Stone said. “I believe in people having guns.”
Stone said that those convicted of violent crimes are the only individuals who should not have the right to weapon ownership.
Clark, who actively teaches concealed weapons permit courses, said that he is thankful that Americans are regaining some of the second amendment rights that have been eroding.
“If we could get a certain president out of the way, maybe we could move those a little bit further,” he said.
Looper, a self-described firm believer in the second amendment, referenced former presidential candidate John McCain in his response to the question.
“(McCain) said enforce the laws we already have, and I think we have plenty of them and we don’t need any further regulations,” Looper said.
As the evening progressed, sheriff candidates were also asked to describe the top two changes they would make if there were elected to office.
“We need to put more folks in,” Looper said. “Uniform patrol is the backbone of any organization. It is the most important element. What’s most important to your family is when it’s 3 o’clock in the morning and you dial 911, how fast is help going to get there?”
Looper said he is confident that if elected he can increase service through the utilization of existing resources within the sheriff’s office so that there is no additional cost to taxpayers.
Clark proposed the adoption of intelligence-led policing, which will essentially revolutionize the way law enforcement data is collected and distributed among members of the sheriff’s office by fostering collaboration.
“We need a cohesive force so we are working together to chase the same thugs and criminals,” Clark said. “We have to have a crime analyst to do this — to mine the data and pull it together so the deputy on the street knows what is going on in his neighborhood. If we give them the ability to know what’s going on, we can challenge them to put more thugs in jail.”
Stone agreed that more people are needed in the narcotics and criminal investigation division units, but says the reason they are not there directly corresponds to the struggling economy.
One of the most important changes he would like to see would be having Pickens move to the 17th Judicial Circuit.
“Our jail holds 110 individuals,” Stone said. “As of this morning we had 146. We can’t get in the courts fast enough. We are with Greenville in the 13th Circuit. Who gets the apple and who gets the rotten tomato? We need to get in the 17th Judicial Circuit with Oconee County, because our counties are more compatible.”
Pickens County is growing, and the crime rate has the potential to increase. As such, Reinert asked candidates what plans they had to deal with the crime that is attempting to move into Pickens County.
According to Clark, between 2000 and 2010, Pickens County has seen a dramatic increase in crime. There have been increases of 62 percent in violent crimes, 68 percent in assault, and 80 percent in burglaries, he said.
“Those things are happening here in Pickens County,” Clark said. “We’ve had these dramatic crime increases and we won’t stay one of the safest counties in the state if we don’t get on this. We’ve got to get back out there and have a coordinated way to get after some thugs.”
Looper suggested that population increase is not always indicative of crime increase. Nonetheless, Pickens County needs to increase service level, he said.
“I think the majority of our crime is narcotics-driven,” Looper said. “We’ve got a four-or five-man narcotics unit that works day and night — never seeing their families. They don’t have enough help.
“I think we have the resources that can be restructured and utilized to better serve the community. We can take existing resources and give help to narcotics and CID. We can do that, but we are going to have to cultivate and develop community relationships.”
Stone said that crime rates have been down, and Pickens County continues to have one of the lowest crime rates in the state of South Carolina.
“We’ve been blessed to have low crime rates in Pickens County. We’re trying our best,” he said. “We’re still working hard to try to get more help. We just have to be patient.”
When it came time for audience questions, one person wanted to know how the incumbent sheriff would handle the federal government if martial law were declared as the result of a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina.
“The federal government doesn’t have any business being in our business in the state of South Carolina,” said Stone. “As the sheriff of Pickens County, if the federal government comes in and tries to take over — one of us is going to jail or somewhere else. You can depend on me. I’ll go down fighting, I’ll tell you that.”
Clark said he would tell the federal government that they can deal with the people of Pickens County, where the second amendment is number one.
“We’re not letting federal people come in here and take our guns, but will not stand for the federal government increasing their tyranny on us.”
While Looper agreed with the positions of both Stone and Clark, he did point out that it would be crazy to think that South Carolina could collectively hold off the U.S. Marine Corp.
“We need to go through the courts and build on case law,” Looper said. “Jefferson said when the government fears the people we’ve got liberty, but when the people fear the government, we’ve got tyranny, and that’s not what we need here, and I’ll do everything I can to keep us from it.”
The final question of the evening — a hypothetical scenario which asked whether or not the candidates would arrest a concealed weapons permit holder for having his weapon in a restaurant that serves alcoholic beverages — created some confusion about the state law and regulation.
According to Looper, the law clearly states that concealed weapons are not allowed in an establishment that has on-premises alcohol consumption — even if the individual has the proper permit.
“There are no allowances in there if it wasn’t clear that there were on-premises consumption,” Looper said. “In reality, that is a criminal violation. So, I would say on the face of that, that is probably going to be a criminal charge. The most valuable thing we have in police work is police officer discretion. I would allow an officer’s discretion on that, but clearly it is a violation of the law.”
Clark said he would look at the weapon holder’s intent.
“If there was no intent there, I would not arrest him,” Clark said. He also offered an update on the current legislature that would apply in this situation.
“Coming out of the S.C. State House, you can carry a concealed weapon in a place that sells alcohol — say Applebees — as long as they don’t have it clearly marked,” he said. “If there’s nothing on the door that says you can’t do it, you can carry it in.”
However, it is still illegal to drink alcohol in the place where one is carrying his concealed weapon.
Stone argued the points made by Looper and Clark.
“The statute of South Carolina doesn’t say anything in the law that you would be arrested if you’re in there where alcohol is being sold,” Stone said. “And whether you’re drinking alcohol — it doesn’t say a thing. Only thing it says — it states you cannot carry it in there if there is a decal on the window. That’s totally wrong. You would not arrest that individual. The state law says that you can be in there, drinking alcoholic beverages if you want to, eating or whatever. The state law does not say that you can arrest that individual, and anyone who wants to come up to the sheriff’s office, I will give you a copy of it.”
After Stone spoke, Clark asked for clarification on the issue, saying he was confused by the law Stone cited.
“A person convicted of carrying a firearm into a place that sells alcohol for consumption is guilty of a misdemeanor. That law hasn’t changed,” said Clark. “I’m confused.”
“I think what the sheriff is talking about is the way it will be with the passage of that legislature,” added Looper.
For more information or to contact the candidates for the office of Pickens County Sheriff, visit the Pickens County Registration and Elections Commission’s website at