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A Sunday afternoon debate between Charles County Sheriff Rex Coffey and candidate Troy Berry ended when Berry accused Coffey ally Maj. Joseph “Buddy” Gibson of creating false websites to hinder the Berry campaign.

In a debate sponsored by the Fraternal Order of Police, Berry told the packed house at the Jaycees center in Waldorf that it recently had come to his attention that several fake URLs had been circulating the Internet. The campaign’s official site, troyberry4sheriff.com, Berry said, is the sole correct one.

Berry said he knew of at least three more: troyberry4sheriff.org, berryforsheriff.com and troyberryforsheriff.com. Berry said all three of those sites are registered to Gibson, Coffey’s second in command at the sheriff’s office. A reporter verified Gibson’s ownership of the Web addresses.

On Sunday, shortly after the debate, all three sites had the same content: a bright yellow page with “Berry for Sheriff. Much more to come” in bold black lettering. As of Tuesday morning, that had been wiped from all three impostor sites, which simply read “Under Construction” on a white page.

Gibson was in the audience at the sheriff’s debate. When asked for a comment after the debate had ended, he told a reporter, “Just go check out the sites and see what they’re about. Check them out. Anyone can say anything about it.”

The sheriff has disavowed knowledge of the existence of the bogus sites.

“I have absolutely no recollection of being told about these websites in advance,” Coffey wrote in an email to the Maryland Independent. “They were not consistent with how I handle politics, and that’s why I had Buddy remove them immediately.”

Coffey’s wife took to Facebook after the debate to share her theory that Berry had the questions prior to the debate.

“It was really just a question and answer forum. In a real debate one candidate answers a question, then the other gives his answer then the first candidate offers a rebuttal,” Cindy Coffey wrote on her Facebook page. “... Mr. Berry was not supposed to know your questions beforehand how did he have the answers written down[?]”

She made a similar remark on commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly’s status about attending the debate.

“... [B]ut did you notice how Mr. Berry read his answers from a prepared script,” Cindy Coffey wrote.

The debate used 19 questions the FOP had given the candidates two weeks prior to the debate. From there, the debate questions were determined. The questions centered on issues of ethics in the department, along with staffing and morale issues and how the two candidates would work to accommodate the county’s shifting demographics.

Berry dismissed Cindy Coffey’s allegations.

“My reponse is that we received 19 questions in a questionnaire prior to the debate,” Berry said Tuesday during a phone interview. “Before the debate, I studied the information ... and I was prepared going into the debate. I didn’t have the questions in advance.”

Sgt. John Elliott, the FOP president, was similarly strong in his condemnation of Cindy Coffey’s allegations, adding that Rex Coffey chose “to speak off the cuff” where Berry stuck to responses given to the previous questions.

“It’s unfortunate she feels that way,” Elliott said in a phone interview. “That’s certainly not the case. ... We didn’t even come up with the questions until late Saturday night. It’s sad that she’s calling not only Lt. Berry’s integrity into question but the FOP and all of its members, as well.”

“I’m hearing an overwhelming message: It’s time for a change,” Berry said during the debate Sunday of what he has observed on the campaign trail and out in the community thus far. “I will be a positive example for the men and women of the Charles County Sheriff’s Office. … My No. 1 priority will be making the office a national model for fighting crime and proactive policing.”

When asked how he differs from Berry, Coffey said during the debate that he “is totally committed to what I’ve done. I do what I say I’m going to do.

“What differentiates me? Not a whole lot. We’re both good people,” Coffey said. “Everything I do is connected. I am totally committed … and I’ve lowered crime to some unbelievable rates.”

Berry said he differs from Coffey in his managerial style and his overall temperament.

“I consider myself a very approachable person,” Berry said. “We may disagree on particular issues, but I will remain professional at all costs. I am not a person who … micromanages everyday tasks.”

“When you do the job of sheriff … you have a lot of decisions to make, and they’re not always easy,” Coffey said of what he feels makes one an ethical officer, stressing his integrity. “I vowed when I got this job that I wouldn’t do anything to keep me out of heaven. I vow not to let only myself down, but my family and God, so I’m a person of integrity.”

“Ethics in law enforcement is paramount,” Berry said. “Their conduct and demeanor in the court carries weight. As the sheriff it’s critical to hire people that don’t bring baggage to the police department.”

“What I’ve done since I came into office speaks for itself,” Coffey said when asked how he would work with demographic shifts as the county grows its minority population. “We don’t hire anyone who doesn’t meet minimum qualifications. As for the community, I think just the fact that I mentor an African-American child that’s become a part of my family, the fact that I care about the kid so deeply, and I go to all the schools … I don’t have to do those things. I care about everybody.”

Berry cited his own community involvement and work with youth.

“Everyone is a leader,” Berry said. “You’re either leading them in the right direction or the wrong direction.”

Issues of morale in the office drew markedly different responses from the two candidates.

“Give officers the moon, and they want the stars,” Coffey said. “I say that because I used to be one. The morale at this office is no different from any other in the country. … Morale will always be fickle, certainly.”

“Morale is low at the sheriff’s office,” Berry said plainly. “Last year, we took a no-confidence vote in this administration. The agency is divided. We can’t just say that patrol, for example, is the backbone of the agency and not give them the tools to succeed.”

The link to Coffey’s answers to the 19 original questions can be found at http://bit.ly/1h9TOMD. Berry’s responses can be found at http://bit.ly/1lSzx43.

lrenner@somdnews.com