Kester talks issues with sheriff's office, accreditation during press conference

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AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV)— On Monday, Neil Kester, a candidate for Augusta County sheriff, held a press conference to talk about his platform, concerns he heard from people in the county and the sheriff's office accreditation.

Kester held his second press conference on Tuesday to talk about concerns he had heard from the community, among other topics. | Credit: WHSV

Kester said during his time on the campaign, he had heard about several issues from people in the county, including bullying in schools and school safety, a "lack of service" from the sheriff's office, illegal immigration and human trafficking and the opioid crisis.

Kester said if elected sheriff, he would address these concerns. Kester also had concerns about the sheriff's office lack of accreditation.

"Evidence is an essential element of prosecuting crimes and the integrity and custody of evidence should never come into question," Kester said.

According to a release from the sheriff's office earlier this month, the office was not accredited in part because a ring that was checked out of evidence several years ago had not been returned.

In the press conference, Kester said the sheriff had been misleading by calling it a piece of costume jewelry.

Kester also discussed the morale and what he called a turnover issue at the sheriff's office. According to information the Kester campaign provided, he claimed there was a 60% turnover rate over the last four years.

Kester said they acquired the data through a Freedom on Information Act request, that showed 50 people had left the office. They divided the number of people by the total number of positions (about 80) to get the turnover rate.

"I understand there's many variables associated with turnover," Kester said. "However, one of my priorities will be to identify trends in turnover that are specific to the Augusta County Sheriff's Office.

In a release sent out by Augusta County Sheriff Donald Smith, Smith said the yearly turnover was much lower. Based on information provided by the sheriff, the yearly turnover rate on average was 11.4 percent.

In a press release, the sheriff said the election continues to be a "bashing session of the current sheriff's office and the deputies."

“I am extremely proud of the men and women that makeup the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office and their dedication and commitment to keep our community safe," Smith said in the release.

During the press conference, Kester also called for Smith to agree to a town hall so people could ask them both any questions they have. The sheriff did not address that in his press release.