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McDonald and his team 'left everything on the field'

 Asked for his reaction to his stunning re-election loss on Tuesday, Sheriff Charlie McDonald repeated an interviewer’s question.


“What happened? I’m still working on that one,” he said on morning after. “The voters spoke. I think one of the biggest problems I felt that law enforcement faces is people support us generally but they don’t know what we do. I know a lot of people called me a politician. I don’t know that I was. I did whatever I thought was right no matter what the timing was.
“I always believed that if you let other things interfere with your judgments and your actions then you don’t deserve to be there. I just kind of went ahead, timing be damned, I took care of things as they came up on the radar. I think a lot of that got used against us. That’s the way politics is, I don’t have any hard feelings, I really don’t.”
“Timing be damned” might well apply to his decision in April to try, for a fourth time, to site a law enforcement training center and outdoor shooting range in rural Saluda. The decision sparked a huge uprising of homeowners, who became the most likely of voters.
“I think it definitely was a factor and the bottom line is it still doesn’t change my opinion,” he said. “I’m a law enforcement instructor. We’re increasing their level of responsibility and accountability across the board. The average police officer out here, the only time they ever had high-speed driving was in rookie school. Then when something bad happens we say, they don’t train well enough. Henderson County had a chance to be a forerunner and really a place that would have drawn other people for training and instead we’re going to do what we’ve always done — save a few dollars and just get by and hope that our bigger efforts will cover it. We do not train law enforcement to the standard they need to be trained to.”
McDonald also lost the precincts in Mills River, where friends and relatives of Tommy Bryson had been critical of McDonald’s decisions during the manhunt for Bryson’s murderer, suggesting he should have sealed off a wide area with roadblocks.
“I had a fire chief obviously that did everything he could to undermine my remaining in office,” McDonald said, referring to Mills River Fire Chief Rick Livingston, a strong Griffin supporter. “There was a groundswell in the community. It’s a community I live in and this is something I’ve got to deal with. I’m not responsible for Mr. Bryson’s death. I told people before, in every operation there are things that go badly. We went with the best information we had, we made the decisions we thought were prudent and appropriate at the time. All of my folks did everything they possibly could have done. It didn’t work out the way we hoped it would. But it was Mr. Stroupe that took Mr. Bryson’s life. It wasn’t the sheriff as I’ve been accused of doing. That’s hard but, hey, that comes with the job.”
McDonald, whose term lasts until Griffin is sworn in in December, pledged to help his successor all he could.
“I’m going to do everything I can to ensure a peaceful transition,” he said. “I’ll worry about my folks, particularly command level folks that worked and fought for me. I hope Lowell will see that as loyalty to the leader not as any kind of thing against him. But he has the right to do whatever he thinks he needs to do coming in.”
“That’s always a concern,” he said of the future of high-ranking personnel. “I think Lowell will be a man of his word.”
As a new sheriff, Griffin will have plenty on his plate. The hiring of 14 new school resource officers, for instance, “is going to take a herculean effort to get that done without reducing standards,” McDonald said. “I talked to Lowell last night and I told him I’m willing to do whatever I need to do to make this transition as effective for him and as positive for the agency and this county moving forward and I believe he’ll take me up on that. … If he does well, the agency will do well. That’s my hope. I left it better than I found it. It wasn’t good enough to get me four more years but I’m not going to do anything to stand in the way of his success and the safety of this community.”
“I think we’ve conducted ourselves honorably,” he said. “I and this agency has left everything on the field and (for) the citizens, obviously collectively, that wasn’t enough to carry us over.”
At 62, McDonald does not sound like he’s ready to retire, but also not interested in political office.
“I never wanted to be in politics and I think this has pretty much underscored obviously I’m not very successful at it,” he said. “I don’t see anything political but I know we’ve got something waiting for us out there.”