Illegal drugs, financial troubles in Lawrence’s sheriff’s run

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Oct. 30 – MOULTON – A former three-term Lawrence County sheriff is seeking to unseat the incumbent Republican in the Nov. 8 general election, with both candidates saying illegal drugs and having enough money to cover the necessary services are major challenges for the department.

Gene Mitchell, 80, of Mount Hope, is running as an independent to take over the post he held from 2006 to 2018. Meanwhile, Max Sanders Sr., 75, of Moulton, wants another four years as as the county’s top law enforcement official. In the 2018 general election, Sanders defeated Mitchell, then a Democrat, by less than 300 votes.

In January, Mitchell applied to run as a Republican, but the Lawrence County Republican Executive Committee ruled he did not meet its criteria. Mitchell then collected over 1,000 signatures throughout the county to run as an independent.

“I want to continue the improvements I’ve made to the department,” Sanders said. “I am working to involve more young people in our Explorer program and I want to continue to protect our most vulnerable, our elderly.”

Sanders, who worked in the state probation and parole office for 33 years, said illegal drugs are a national problem and continue to be a serious problem in the county.

“We focus on drug trafficking,” he said. “(The Biden administration) with its open border policy is causing a bigger drug trafficking problem. It’s not just in Lawrence County, it’s across the country.”

Mitchell, who served as director of public safety under Governor Fob James, said, “Drug cartels have taken over our county and illicit drugs containing fentanyl are killing our young people.”

According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It was developed to manage pain for cancer patients, but has been abused by drug traffickers to boost the potency of other drugs and sometimes leads to drug overdose deaths.

Limited resources

Both candidates recognize that more resources will be needed to make inroads against drug activity.

The sheriff’s department will likely have less money in its discretionary fund when Alabama’s requirement that gun owners purchase pistol licenses ends Jan. 1. Money from the discretionary account can be used for department needs such as new patrol vehicles, weapons, radios, and vests.

“The state legislature will try to give us money, and I only expect the gun license money to go down a small percentage,” Sanders said. “It’s an Alabama license. Gun owners will need a license when they go out of state.”

Mitchell said money could be tighter after the first of the year when the Concealed Carry Act comes into effect.

“Losing money for a gun license will be a big loss,” he said. “We will have to look for new avenues in federal grants and have good money management.”

Sanders said the county commission and County Administrator Heather Dyar Rose funded three additional Sheriff’s Department employees from this fiscal year.

“This should improve our coverage across the county,” he said. “I have a good working relationship with the commissioners and the administrator. We have also developed a very good relationship with the Moulton Police Department and other local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.”

Sanders, who is a retired Army National Guard lieutenant colonel, said he would seek money, possibly through grants, to fund a mental health worker. “We are responding to more calls from domestic issues. This shows a definite need for a mental health worker.”

Mitchell said that in his previous three terms as sheriff, he had worked well with the commissioners.

“I’ve always worked with the County Commission and they’ve worked with me,” he said. “I expect to do the same with anyone who sits on the commission. Serving in law enforcement is a calling. It’s a calling that I must fulfill.”

Mitchell served as sheriff in Talladega County from 1972 to 1976 and is trying to become Lawrence County’s first sheriff to serve four terms, according to the Alabama Sheriff’s Association website. He has been married to Montez Willis Mitchell for 45 years and has three children, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Sanders has been married to his wife Louisa for 48 years and they have two children and three grandchildren. He defeated Republican challenger Tim Sandlin, his former chief deputy, in the GOP primary in May.

The sheriff serves a four-year term and is paid $68,274 per year.

Probate Judge Greg Dutton predicts a 45% turnout on Nov. 8. In the 2018 general elections, 51% of registered voters turned out to vote.

— mike.wetzel@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2442. Twitter@DD_Wetzel.

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