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Sheriff candidates highlight their differences at live civic center debate

By JIM BROOKS
Nelson County Gazette / WBRT Radio

Monday, Oct. 22, 2018 — The live televised debate between the two candidates for Nelson County Sheriff began quickly became a discussion over the differences in both men’s view of how the sheriff’s office should serve the county’s residents.

Republican Todd Harper and Democrat Ramon Pineiroa squared off Monday night for a fast-paced debate, the first in a series of debates at the Nelson County Civic Center in front of a live audience. The debates are sponsored by Standard Communications and PLG 13.

Todd Harper, the Republican candidate for Nelson County Sheriff responds to a question during the candidate’s 30-minute debate broadcast live on PLG TV from the Nelson County Civic Center.

After introductions, the first question posed to the candidates — about the handling of the Crystal Rogers case — set the tone of what was at times a heated debate about the candidates’ differing viewpoints.

Harper said the lead detective on the Rogers case may retire after the election. If that happens, he said he will hire a homicide or “cold case” detective to focus solely on the Rogers case.

Harper said he’s never said the detectives working the case haven’t worked hard. As he’s campaigned door-to-door, solving the Rogers case is Harper said is foremost on voters’ minds. “They are the taxpayers that fund the sheriff’s office. Why would we not want to give them what they want?

“They want this case solved, and I want to do the right thing for Nelson County,” Harper said. “We have a killer on the loose, either a serial killer or multiple killers on the loose, I don’t know. We need to find out the answers to those questions, and that’s what I’m putting a priority on doing.”

Pineiroa said that the lead detective — Capt. Jon Snow — will indeed be eligible to retire in six months.

He said he planned to keep Snow on the Rogers case until Snow decides to retire. Pineiroa said however that he would like to hire by contract an experienced homicide detective to review the case.

NARCOTICS DETECTIVE. Pineiroa said his sheriff’s office would continue to provide a detective to work with the Greater Hardin County Narcotics Task Force. In addition to that, he would hire a second narcotics officer who can work either with the task force, or focus on drug investigations in Nelson County.

Harper said he was concerned that the City of Bardstown may drop out of the drug task force, and that he would probably add another detective to the task force. “It’s time to do more about the drug issue here in Nelson County,” he said.

Harper said federal grants pay the cost of officer’s overtime while they work on drug cases, which represent a savings to Nelson Fiscal Court.

Pineiroa disagreed with Harper, noting that the sheriff’s office is responsible for its officers’ pay and benefits when they work for the task force no matter what county they are in.

“We may not pay their overtime, but we’ll pay forty-some thousand plus for their salary. It would come out of either Fiscal Court or the sheriff’s budget,” Pineiroa said.

Pineiroa also noted that when the task force makes a drug bust, the money they may seize goes directly to the task force and not to the participating agencies who provide manpower to the task force. His plan to add a drug detective to work in Nelson County will mean that any money or goods seized become the property of the sheriff’s office, he explained.

TRANSPARENCY. Harper said that if elected sheriff, he would put put more information about crime out to the local media and social media. He said he will issue a weekly crime report and reports of break-ins that take place in neighborhoods to let people who live nearby know what’s happening. Someone in the area my have seen something suspicious at the time a crime happened, he explained.

Pineiroa said the sheriff’s office makes it a practice to issue press releases regarding serious crimes and accidents. “We’ll continue that and improve on it,” he said.

Harper said the sheriff’s office Facebook page was boring, and highlighted the good job the Louisville Metro Police Department does using its Facebook page.

“They do it right, and that’s why I want a community relations deputy who can constantly keep working that page,” Harper said. The sheriff’s office will use social media to show the office is working with the citizens “toward a better Nelson County.”

Pineiroa defended the Nelson County Sheriff’s Office Facebook efforts, adding that the page has 11,000 followers. “Are they boring too?”

Harper said he appreciated the sheriff’s office efforts at transparency on social media. “It’s good, but it can just be done better.”

DRUGS IN THE COMMUNITY. Pineiroa was asked about how the steps the sheriff’s office could take to combat hard drugs in the community.

He said personally, he felt the county’s needle exchange program enabled drug addicts, but added that he also understood the health benefits the program provides.

Drugs are plentiful and easy to find in most communities, he said. “It’s overwhelming.”

Harper said addicts need to be diverted to rehab rather than throwing them in jail. He said some communities have what are known as “angel programs” that match addicts up with “angels” who help them find help for their addiction.

Pineiroa said he supports the existing drug court, but noted that the sheriff’s office is not the agency that offers drug rehab services to addicts. The sheriff’s office is charged with arresting drug users, drug dealers and investigating crime. Many of the local burglaries, thefts and break-ins are all drug-related, he said.

NEXT UP. Tuesday evening’s live debate will feature the three candidates for Nelson County Judge Executive — incumbent Democrat Dean Watts; Republican Don Thrasher; and independent candidate Jack Hurst. The one-hour debate is set to begin live at 6 p.m. at the Nelson County Civic Center.

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