“In many states, if the sheriff does something wrong, it’s not clear who’s supposed to do something about it, which means no one is going to do anything about it,” says Mirya Holman of Tulane University. While the vast majority of the nation’s 3,000 elected sheriffs are highly trained professionals, accusations of racial profiling and excessive force are common.
“In many states, if the sheriff does something wrong, it’s not clear who’s supposed to do something about it, which means no one is going to do anything about it,” Mirya Holman, a political scientist at Tulane University who studies sheriffs, tells Governing . “A combination of large budgets and little information provides an environment where corruption is certainly possible, if not probable.” With more than 3,000 sheriffs elected nationwide, there are always a few corrupt ones. The vast majority of sheriffs are highly trained professionals managing complex operations that enforce the law, house offenders and treat the mentally ill. Still, accusations of racial profiling and excessive force are common, and there are often a few lawsuits pending for wrongful deaths.
Sheriff Oddie Shoupe of White County, Tn., has been sued 50 times since taking office in 2006. A pair of deputies were preparing to “ram” a suspect they were pursuing when Shoupe ordered them by radio to shoot him instead, saying he didn’t want them to risk “tearing up” their vehicle. Shoupe said, “I love this shit. God, I tell you what, I thrive on it.” Prosecutors in Milwaukee charged three jail employees with neglect and felony misconduct in a case involving a mentally ill inmate who died after being deprived of water for a week as punishment for damaging his cell. Last June, a federal jury awarded $6.7 million to a former inmate at the Milwaukee County Jail who had been raped repeatedly by a guard. A few cases of sheriff misconduct have drawn attention from prosecutors or plaintiffs’ attorneys. Most sheriffs are never called to account for their misdeeds.