Augusta County Sheriff Admits to Withdrawing Support for Body Cameras, Despite Transparency Pledge
Written by Sam Orlando
Staunton, VA - Over 80% of Augusta County residents supported body cameras for deputies, according to a county-commissioned survey. However, they were surprised to see the Augusta County Board of Supervisors change course and remove the body cameras from next year's budget at their meeting on April 26, 2023. A recent interview that Augusta County Sheriff Donald Smith granted to ABC affiliate WHSV reveals some insight into the county's last-minute backtrack, suggesting that it was Sheriff Smith who decided at the last minute to withdraw his support for cameras. "“I have other priorities that are very important to me prior to getting the body and dash cameras.” This is in stark contrast to Smith's numerous public appeals to the board for funding of cameras. Ironically, in the same interview, Smith pledged to be "as transparent... as possible" without body cameras, a curious commitment given the obvious lack of transparency around the Sheriff's support, or opposition, to the effort to require cameras for Sheriff's deputies.
A disturbing police violence incident in Staunton not only underscored the need for increased accountability and transparency in police misconduct cases but also raised questions about Augusta County Sheriff Donald Smith's opposition to body cameras for his deputies. Given the alarming case and other allegations against the sheriff's office, it appears that there may be more at play behind the sheriff's resistance to adopting this crucial public safety measure.
On August 31, 2022, dash cam footage captured an alarming incident involving police violence against Antwohn Suiter, the president of Black Lives Matter Shenandoah Valley, and his friend, Chris Shifflett. The two men were recording a traffic stop conducted by Augusta County officers within Staunton city limits when they were assaulted by the officers. CJ Taylor, a deputy with the Augusta County Sheriff's Office, was placed on paid leave pending investigation for attacking Suiter and Shifflett. Breaking Through News has confirmed that Taylor remains on paid suspension several months after the offense, and he has not yet been charged.
Sheriff Smith has publicly misrepresented his position on body cameras on several occasions, leading some to question his motives for opposing their use. In response to the sheriff's opposition to body cameras, Antwohn Suiter said, "Until there is real transparency, I will question every decision the sheriffs (deputies) of Augusta County and Sheriff Smith make. This is just another example of the sheriff neglecting his duties and not using his resources to his full advantage."
The incident involving Suiter and Shifflett, coupled with other allegations against the sheriff's office, has intensified calls for the federal government to intervene in the investigation. Such intervention could provide assurances that the crimes committed have been thoroughly investigated and that those responsible have been adequately charged.
The Augusta County Sheriff's resistance to implementing body cameras for his deputies, despite the technology's proven benefits in enhancing transparency and accountability, raises concerns about the sheriff's commitment to public safety. With pressure mounting on the sheriff and the Augusta County Board of Supervisors to fund, purchase, and use body camera devices, it remains to be seen how they will respond to the growing demand for greater oversight and accountability.
In conclusion, the recent incident and ongoing investigations into allegations of misconduct within the Augusta County Sheriff's Office underscore the urgent need for a more in-depth examination of Sheriff Smith's opposition to body cameras. It is crucial that we demand greater accountability and transparency in cases of police misconduct and call on our elected officials to take action. We cannot let incidents like these continue to occur without consequences. It is time for us to stand up and demand justice for all.