Potential gubernatorial candidate Blaine R. Young (R) said he stands by his sheriff amid several recent controversies and a renewal of the county’s participation in a controversial federal immigration program.
Young, the president of the Frederick County Board of Commissioners, said Sheriff Chuck Jenkins (R) is the latest in a long line of fine Frederick County sheriffs.
“I think we have an outstanding sheriff’s department,” Young said, adding that Jenkins has been effective in both law enforcement and fiscal responsibility.
Jenkins has found himself under fire in recent years for the county’s embrace of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s 287(g) program, which brings together local and federal law enforcement to enforce immigration policy.
Frederick is the only county in Maryland to participate in the program. It has used it since 2008.
On June 27, the sheriff’s office renewed its participation in the program for another three years, through 2016, Jenkins said Tuesday.
The law allows officials to question suspects about their citizenship status and to deport those who are in the country illegally.
Of the 1,187 detainers lodged against arrestees since the county started using the program, there have been at least 40 confirmed members of international gangs such as MS-13 or the Latin Kings, Jenkins said.
But the effectiveness of the program is hard to quantify just in numbers, Jenkins said.
“When you take that many criminal gang members out of a community, how many crimes have been prevented?” Jenkins asked.
He emphasized that immigration checks are only done at the county’s detention center after suspects have been arrested, and everyone brought into the facility is asked where they were born and what their country of citizenship is.
“There are no immigration checks being done [by deputies] on the street,” Jenkins said.
Young, who is raising money to pursue the Republican nomination for governor, has embraced the sheriff’s aggressive stand on immigration enforcement. In August, the two co-hosted the showing of a documentary at Frederick Community College on the perils of illegal immigration.
A committee financing Young’s possible gubernatorial campaign paid for the event.
Among the Republican primary voters, Jenkins is the most popular sheriff in the party, Young said, although he acknowledged the sheriff’s position might hurt him among Hispanic voters.
Immigration could play a complex role in the 2014 gubernatorial election. In 2012, voters upheld the Dream Act, which granted in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants. But the federal immigration bill, which passed the Senate and could be considered by the House of Representatives, could affect the governor’s race, said Mark Uncapher, chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee. If the bill passes, it likely will bring substantial changes to immigration enforcement, which may trump what’s done on a state or local level, he said.
Aside from the immigration issue, Young has established a record of cutting the size of government and taken other positions that will give him “strong red state appeal” and resonate with parts of the Republican Party, Uncapher said.
That could help him in some parts of the state, but not in others, such as Montgomery, Uncapher said.
Young said that if he files to run for governor, he would celebrate the successes of the Frederick sheriff’s office, and would like to campaign closely with Jenkins if he runs for Frederick County executive, another possibility.
Jenkins said he plans to run for a third term as sheriff in 2014.
The Frederick sheriff’s office has drawn other unwelcome headlines in recent months, particularly when deputies were involved in two January incidents in which young men died.
On Jan. 10, two Frederick deputies helping Howard County police serve a warrant in Mount Airy fired 18 shots at Daniel Vail, killing him, after the 19-year-old reportedly pointed a shotgun at them as they entered his bedroom.
The case has been turned over to the Frederick County State’s Attorney’s Office for possible charges.
Two days later, on Jan. 12, three off-duty deputies working as security guards at a Frederick theater were attempting to remove Ethan Saylor, a 26-year-old with Down syndrome who had refused to leave after one screening of a movie had ended and the next screening had begun.
The deputies forced Saylor to the floor and handcuffed him, shortly after which he suffered a “medical emergency,” according to the autopsy report. Saylor was taken to Frederick Memorial Hospital, where he later was pronounced dead.
A grand jury found no grounds for charges against the deputies, and they were reinstated to active duty.
Young said it’s unfortunate any time someone dies, but he believes both incidents were handled appropriately.
Jenkins acknowledged his office has had to deal with several “unfortunate” incidents, but he maintained they’re the types of incidents that happen to police departments all over the country and just happened to both occur in Frederick County.
Meanwhile, he’s not worried about the effects of the controversy at the ballot box.
“I think people will form their own opinions based on the merits of those cases,” he said.