AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) – While the topic of body cameras was not part of the official agenda for the Augusta County Board of Supervisors meeting on Wednesday night, it was an issue raised by three public commenters and a county supervisor took issue with a recent social media post by Augusta County Sheriff Donald Smith.
On May 14, a deputy shot a Grottoes man while responding to a call of somebody breaking-and-entering a home. According to the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office, Jeffrey Bruce was seen running behind a home on Blue Fish Lane when he then charged toward a deputy with a knife. In a press release from the agency, the deputy shot Bruce as he was charging toward them. Bruce died.
On Thursday, May 20, Sheriff Smith said a deputy shot a man while responding to a domestic situation and a dog being stolen near Stuarts Draft. According to the press release, Deonte Laron Harris, 31, drove off as the deputy approached his vehicle. The deputy followed Harris through several neighborhoods in a low-speed pursuit. When Harris came to a stop, the sheriff said Harris stayed in the vehicle. The deputy reportedly saw him place a gun in his mouth. But as the deputy approached, Harris allegedly removed the weapon from his mouth and displayed a second gun. According to Sheriff Smith, the deputy, “engaged Harris with his duty pistol.” Harris was treated at a hospital and charged.
One question posed by a reporter: “Have you approached the board of supervisors for funding? If so, how did it go? If not, why not?” Smith responded: “Yes, the funding was not approved. Dash cameras were requested in the past in order to establish the needed infrastructure to begin an in-car camera program which would also include a body-worn system in the future. Due to multiple issues including the pandemic, budgets were restricted and conserved.”
“As previously stated body cameras have been one of my strategic goals for the agency,” Smith said in the post. “However deputy’s wages, vehicles and protective gear have been my priority over the cameras due to budget restraints.”
Smith also said in his post “I do believe that implementation of body-worn and in-car cameras is important for our county, however, it will not happen overnight nor will it happen without significant cost.”
But at Wednesday night’s meeting of the Augusta County supervisors, one person supporting body cameras for deputies told supervisors he could not find when such a approval specific to funding body cameras was denied.
Supervisor Pam Carter took issue with Smith’s answer he provided on Facebook about the board not approving funding.
Carter, who has served on the board for three and a half years, said she would like clarification and while giving the benefit-of-the-doubt asked her fellow supervisors about if funding was denied before she was elected.
“I’ll give you clarification. You want answers to your question? It’s a matter of public record,” said Chairman Gerald Garber.
Carter told Garber when a vote was discussed she does not recall it specifically calling for body cameras. Garber said the county funds the sheriff’s office and it’s up to the agency to prioritize it.
Carter, again, recalled Smith’s Facebook post.
“This sounds like we were specifically asked to fund body cams,” said Carter. She later said to Garber on such a vote: “For you to say it happened, when we didn’t vote for a tax increase, that we voted against body cams, that is not fair. That is inaccurate.”
Garber said the board voted against funding many items the Sheriff’s Office wanted, but Carter raised concerns over Smith publicly saying how the board of supervisors specifically denied approving the money of body cameras.
“I just want things to be accurate and transparent,” Carter said. “When you’re accusing us of something, make sure it’s factual.”
Garber added he supports body cameras.
Carter said the topic of body cameras has become a very heated conversation among citizens. She hopes Sheriff Smith will provide a detailed study of body cameras to the board with the ancillary costs associated of purchasing body cameras so the board can address it.
Smith did not respond to a late request for comment on Wednesday night, however, this story will be updated if he has a response to the comments made at the board meeting.
As for the recent deputy-involved shootings, Virginia State Police is handling the investigations.
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