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Cassidy sworn in as new Sullivan County sheriff

Rain Smith • Aug 24, 2018 at 6:14 PM

KINGSPORT — In a courtroom packed by family, friends and soon-to-be employees, Jeff Cassidy took his oath of office on Friday to serve as sheriff for Sullivan County.

A congratulatory handshake from Judge Ray Conkin, signaling the swearing in was complete, spurred an enthusiastic shock wave of cheers from the crowd. Cassidy then addressed the room, thanking everyone for their support.   

“I see a lot of people that gave up their own time, hours, hard work and sweat during this hot summer that we’ve had working through this campaign,” said Cassidy. “And also (thanks to) the people of Sullivan County that are believing in me; that believe in my mission, my goals, my vision for the protection of society.”

Cassidy officially goes to work Sept. 1. Other newly elected county officials will be sworn in next week. Cassidy took his oath early due to new sheriff training he’ll be attending in Nashville.

“I’m really anxious. I’m very excited about starting as sheriff of Sullivan County,” he told the courtroom. “We’ve got great ladies and gentlemen who work there, and I’m just ready to go to work. But I love you all. I love Sullivan County.”

Earlier this month, Cassidy took 66 percent of the vote to defeat five-term incumbent Sheriff Wayne Anderson. Some members of the administration under Anderson’s tenure have since filed paperwork to retire: Chief Deputy Lisa Christian; her husband, Major Reece Christian; and Capt. Mark Ducker.

Throughout Cassidy’s campaign and after his victory, he has been adamant about shaking up things at the Sheriff’s Office. That includes shuffling the roles of some employees, reallocating resources and reexamining the operation as a whole.

“What we need versus what we want is very crucial,” Cassidy told the Times News. “We need to prioritize things in our budget for quality public service and public safety and make sure officers are equipped to do their jobs.”

Stemming the flow

When Cassidy takes the reins next month, the size of the SCSO Vice Unit will immediately be doubled from three officers to six. He says the extra manpower will be supplied by realignments and reassignments of employees in other departments.

“You can’t put enough officers towards drugs rights now,” Cassidy said.

Cassidy also wants to work with other local agencies to try to stem the flow of drugs into the region through its major arteries: Interstates 81 and 26. He says that through grant funding available from the Tennessee Highway Safety Office, a drug interdiction team can be established, paying officers from the SCSO, Kingsport, Bluff City and Bristol Police Departments to conduct extra patrols.

Piles of paperwork

Approximately 17,000 warrants are unserved at the SCSO. Cassidy says he will consult with administrators to make the serving process more streamlined and productive and get to the root of “what we’re doing wrong.”

He envisions a big piece of the solution as the establishment of an apprehension team that’s devoted to rounding up fugitives. Cassidy says he also wants to better utilize pre-existing resources such as constables to help in serving more warrants for civil cases.

The detention dilemma

Getting more warrants served would mean more inmates in an already overcrowded jail. It was built for slightly more than 600 people, but earlier this week the facility held more than 900.

Cassidy believes there are many nonviolent offenders who don’t need to be behind bars, and he says he has already talked about alternatives with the Sullivan County District Attorney’s Office.

He wants to release more inmates on ankle monitoring systems. And rather than incarcerate drug offenders who are also addicts — which often fuels their cycle of crime — Cassidy wants more people rolling through Sullivan County’s Recovery Court.

Said Cassidy of the program: “(They) establish employment, go to counseling and come off drugs and alcohol to be productive members of society who take care of their children.”

The jail itself is in woeful need of updates, both to protocol and technology. Last week, a Kingsport murder suspect obtained personal information on a cellmate who was about to be released. He then used that information to trick corrections officers, successfully getting himself freed for several hours before being captured.

To keep such embarrassing and potentially dangerous blunders from occurring again, Cassidy has already began researching upgrades for the jail. He wants to install biometric iris and fingerprinting technology that would be used during booking, ensuring the right suspects are coming in and going out.

Culture shift

Professionalism, according to Cassidy, is what he and the community expect and need from his Sheriff’s Office. He says that includes working closely with his staff and county leaders, while being fiscally responsible with the tax dollars of citizens; i.e., no more lawsuits seeking additional funding.

“We are going to be held to the highest integrity and honesty,” Cassidy told the Times News. “And work on taking the politics out of the Sheriff’s Office, make a safe environment. There’s enough stress on the streets. We don’t need to bring it through administration.”

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