The two Democratic candidates for Prince William County sheriff have similar goals for the department, including plans to eliminate a partnership with federal immigration officials that targets immigrants who are in the country illegally.
Brian Fields, a special deputy U.S. Marshal for the U.S. Department of Justice and a Dumfries Town Council member, and Joshua King, a deputy sheriff in Fairfax County, are campaigning to win the Democratic party’s nod for sheriff. The primary will be Tuesday, June 11.
The sheriff’s office provides security at the county’s courthouse, transports prisoners and patients and serves civil paperwork, according to the office website. The sheriff’s jurisdiction includes the county, the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park and the towns of Dumfries, Occoquan, Quantico and Haymarket.
Fields is serving his first Dumfries council term, which began in 2016. He previously was a deputy sheriff for Dinwiddie County from 2014 to 2016 and was a Dumfries town police officer from 2006 to 2014. In addition to his law enforcement experience, Fields served in the Virginia Army National Guard for more than 21 years.
King served in the U.S. Army for five years, including completing two tours in Iraq, and has been a deputy sheriff in Fairfax County for more than 12 years. King narrowly lost to then-Del. Mark Dudenhefer to represent the 2nd District in the Virginia House of Delegates in 2015 and lost in a primary race for the seat to Jennifer Carroll Foy in 2017.
The Democratic nominee will run against Incumbent Sheriff Glen Hill, a Republican seeking a fourth term, and independent candidate Rhonda Dickson in the general election on Nov. 5.
ENDING ICE SUPPORT
Both candidates are focused on ending the county’s program that checks the immigration status of people who are arrested and holds detainees indefinitely if requested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Often referred to as the 287(g), the program was approved by the Prince William Board of County Supervisors in 2007.
Both candidates said because the sheriff sits on the 10-member jail board, they would advocate to eliminate the program, if elected.
Sheriff Hill said he supports the 287(g) program. This month, he signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, to extend the program for another year.
“I’m not going to be selective with the agencies we work with or the laws we enforce,” Hill said.
Hill, who has been chair of the jail board for nine years, signed the agreement as chair of the jail board. The jail board could vote to get rid of the program, but the sheriff alone couldn’t end the program, he added.
Fields said he would advocate as a member of the jail board to get rid of the program. “My main focus would be keeping families together the best that we can.”
Unauthorized immigrants shouldn’t be afraid to contact law enforcement, he said.
“Many things go unreported or unheard or unspoken, because the immigrant community may be afraid to come forward,” Fields said. “As sheriff, I would welcome with open arms and have an open-door policy to any person who is undocumented, and we can sit down and have a talk about what’s going on in their community. I want them to feel safe.”
King said as a member of the jail board, he would advocate to end the program and would work with the board of county supervisors to stop funding the program.
“The sheriff has both a vote on and tremendous influence over the 287(g) policy,” King said. “I will use both my vote on the jail board and my influence with the new and hopefully Democratic-controlled board of supervisors to end this Corey Stewart-era policy. Ending this policy is the first step in rebuilding trust between law enforcement and our majority-minority community.”
King said the U.S. government doesn’t have a good path to citizenship, a federal issue that needs to be addressed, and said the program disproportionately affects people of color.
“I’m focused on keeping the peace, making sure everyone is treated equally under the law, and making sure people aren’t afraid to contact police, because they’re afraid their status will come up,” King said.
Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chair Corey Stewart, a Republican, said the jail board would have the authority to vote to discontinue the program, because the agreement is between the federal government and the jail board, not the board of supervisors.
“We funded it, and we directed the jail board to put it into place and we fund the jail, so the board of supervisors has a tremendous amount of power,” Stewart said. “Although technically it’s the jail board that would make the decision, you have to remember they receive most of their funding from the board of supervisors. The board of county supervisors has a lot of influence over the jail board.”
Stewart said the program doesn’t give authority for local law enforcement to “pull up to the 7-Elevens and arrest people who are here illegally.”
Stewart said the program has driven out gangs like MS-13. “If the county rescinds 287(g), MS-13 comes back with a vengeance, because it will send a big signal that the county will turn a blind eye to criminal illegal alien gang activity.”
Both Fields and King said another important issue in the primary is law enforcement’s interactions with people who have mental health issues or special needs.
Fields said mental health is not a crime and he would mentor deputies to keep that in mind.
King said he would require all deputies to receive crisis intervention training. He also said he would start mandatory training for deputies to serve community members with special needs.
As sheriff, Fields said he would provide information about nonprofits to people who are served eviction notices. “I’m not saying that’s the deputy’s primary job -- he or she has a lot of paperwork to do -- but if there can be a step in between that process, even some information handed from nonprofits that may be able to help.”
Fields also said he would like deputies to greet people who arrive to the court and ask whether they need a translator. He said he would also start a committee of residents to receive input and help answer questions.
King said he’s running because he wants to address issues such as discrimination against black people and other people of color, the LGBTQ community and more.
“I have a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination or hate,” King said. “I want to make sure I hold all officers accountable for their actions.”
King, who is a general law enforcement instructor, said he would hire more staff and make sure they are diverse. “I want to train the next generation of officers,” he said. “It’s a 20-year job; it’s a career job.”
King also said he would work with the community service board and others to offer programs to people as they transition from jail to life afterward to help prevent reoffending.