Activists continue calls for transparency from Augusta County Sheriff’s Office following board of supervisors meeting Wednesday

Community members marched through downtown Staunton Wednesday to protest injustice and demand...
Community members marched through downtown Staunton Wednesday to protest injustice and demand transparency from the Augusta County Sheriff's Office.(WHSV)
Published: May. 27, 2021 at 8:22 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - The community continues to call for the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office to get body cameras.

Many of the same activists, who were in Staunton Wednesday protesting, have been protesting all week and were back outside of the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office Thursday evening.

Many of those who were marching the streets of Staunton Wednesday made their way to the Augusta County Board of Supervisors meeting last night to state their concerns and ask the board about body cameras.

This comes after Sheriff Donald Smith posted on Facebook last week, stating that the board did not approve funding for the cameras.

From the Sheriff's Desk: The media has asked me a series of questions for an article that they are working on after...

Posted by Augusta County Sheriff's Office - Sheriff Donald L. Smith on Wednesday, May 19, 2021

“I’ve been on this board for three and a half years. Maybe this happened before I got on the board. I don’t know but I’m curious,” Pam Carter, Supervisor for the Pastures District said at Wednesday night’s meeting.

She was hoping to get some clarification noting that she can’t remember the board being specifically asked to fund body cameras for the sheriff’s office.

“For you to say that it happened when we passed, if we didn’t vote for a tax increase that we voted against body cams, that is not fair. That is inaccurate in my book,” Carter said.

“We voted against funding many, many things that they want and need. We were nowhere close. They were nowhere close to even asking for this they way we were approaching the budget,” Chair Gerald Garber responded.

Garber said that he does support body cameras and briefly mentioned how the budgeting process works.

“We fund the sheriff’s office the same way we fund the school board. We give them an amount of money. It’s up to them to prioritize it, but when we nickel and dime them to the point where they can’t buy stuff that they need let alone stuff they might want, yes it is a factor,” Garber said.

Carter requested that the Sheriff provide a detailed report of all of the costs associated with the purchasing of body cams, so the board can address it.

“It made me happy because I felt like she understood. She felt what we were feeling just from my friends, my family going up there and speaking volume,” Antwhon Suiter, community leader who organized Wednesday’s protest in Staunton, said. “It makes me feel better that they’re going to take action to get Augusta County Sheriff’s body cams, so now, that’s one of the big things, is transparency.”

Suiter added that while this is a big step for Augusta County, there is still a lot of work to be done at the sheriff’s office.

“They need to be held accountable for the misconduct and the abuse of power. There’s a lot of things wrong with the whole department, and there’s a lot of fixing that needs to be done there,” Suiter said.

And he added that he will continue to show up and protest as often as he can.

“This is where I live at. This is my backyard, so as long as I’m here. this is more than likely what I’ll be doing, Suiter said.”

Protesters say they will continue showing up as often as they can until a federal investigation into the recent officer-involved shootings takes place or is requested.

Sheriff Donald Smith said the following in a statement Thursday:

It is not my intention to be disrespectful to County Administration or staff, the Board of Supervisors, or the community. The body camera issue is an extreme concern for some in the community due to the two recent officer-involved shooting incidents that are currently under investigation by the Virginia State Police. The attacks against me and my office continue because I will not make any comments about these incidents to the press. I am not able to comment until the investigation is concluded and the Commonwealth’s Attorney makes a determination. This is standard procedure, and I will not deviate from it.

In-car cameras and body cameras are not the only needs of the Sheriff’s Office. My priorities and concerns for the Sheriff’s Office go beyond just the cameras...

Due to multiple issues including the pandemic, budgets were restricted and conserved. Please keep in mind that in-car cameras and body-worn cameras are part of a large infrastructure that requires equipment, personnel, storage and re-occurring, annual funding. I have requested funding for cameras every year since 2018, but these line items have been cut from the budget.

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