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Berkeley sheriff candidates agree on little

May 07, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Preston B. Gooden had plenty of headline cases during his eight years as Berkeley County sheriff.

W. Randy Smith said he preferred to work outside the limelight during his 12 years with the sheriff's department.

Sharply divergent styles and views are at the heart of Tuesday's Democratic primary for sheriff. Gooden, 60, and Smith, 52, are facing off for the right to challenge incumbent Ronald E. Jones, a Republican, in November.

Smith's career with the department ended in 1989, just after Gooden took office.

Gooden's second term ended in 1996. State law barred him from seeking a third consecutive term.

The Falling Waters, W.Va., resident said he wants to aggressively fight the county's growing drug problem, continue to enforce motor vehicle registration and dust off a surveillance van that was used to videotape break-ins as they occurred.

Gooden pointed to high-profile crackdowns of gambling and prostitution while he was sheriff as evidence of his crime-fighting success. Once, he organized a raid in which 90 gambling machines were seized from 21 establishments, he said.

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According to Gooden, before he took office, the sheriff's department was often excluded from area drug investigations because other agencies "didn't trust them." During his tenure, the Eastern Panhandle Drug Task Force formed and the sheriff's department became a player in narcotics investigations, Gooden said.

Gooden said he decided to run for sheriff because he was driving to a Martinsburg bank one afternoon and traffic was backed up while a drug deal openly took place on a street corner.

Smith - a Martinsburg resident who worked with the sheriff's department from 1977 to 1989, mostly as an investigator - scoffed at Gooden's claims.

There were plenty of drug investigations during the 1970s and '80s, said Smith, who lists some of his bigger cases on campaign brochures. They include an East Coast drug money laundering scheme and a mail-order LSD operation in south Berkeley County, according to Smith, who said that the cases were never publicized.

"If you want to serve the community and get drugs out of the community, that's (done) by not working your cases in the headlines," Smith said.

He added that he worked many times with the drug task force, which existed before Gooden took office, although it was known by another name.

"The biggest difference between me and him is common sense and truthfulness in law enforcement," Smith said.

One of his latest ads asks, "Did you get your money's worth?" while Gooden was in office. A chart shows the county's law enforcement budget alongside the number of crimes reported and solved. According to Smith's calculations, the department under Gooden had a crime-solving rate that peaked at 12 percent and dipped as low as 1.5 percent, compared to the national average of 16 percent and the state average of 14 percent.

The "cost per solved case" is listed in the last column.

Gooden said the chart is misleading, as it doesn't cover certain police activities, such as drug and gambling money forfeitures. But Smith said they are factored in.

Conversely, Gooden expressed doubts about Smith's claim of establishing databases of criminal information and scam artists. Gooden said that when he took office, the sheriff's department "just had a typewriter and a computer with warrant logs."

"I won't have my integrity questioned," Gooden said.

He said his family suffered death threats when he publicly criticized then-Gov. Arch Moore's administration. Gooden was dismissed from the state police at the time, but won his job back in court.

In 1990, Moore pleaded guilty to federal charges of extortion, fraud and obstruction of justice and was sent to prison.

The Berkeley County Sheriff's Department doubled in manpower under Gooden. But Smith said it still misses important elements, such as a K-9 unit.

In one of the rare times they agreed, both men said the sheriff should focus entirely on law enforcement and not head the county's property and personal property tax collections.

However, neither is expecting that setup to change, since it requires an act of the state Legislature. Also, most sheriffs want to retain the bonuses they receive for reaching a collection quota, Smith and Gooden said.

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