Turner to challenge Woodruff in Republican primary for Troup sheriff

Published 9:00 am Saturday, March 23, 2024

EDITOR’S NOTE: The LaGrange Daily News is doing a series to help voters get to know the candidates for the upcoming local elections on May 21. Today we are writing about the Republican nominees for Troup County Sheriff. Ricky Ward is also running as an independent candidate for sheriff, but he will not appear on the May primary ballot. Ward will be included in future coverage for the November election.

Pastor and son of former Troup County Sheriff Donny Turner, Ben Turner, is challenging incumbent Sheriff James Woodruff to be the Republican nominee for sheriff.

Woodruff began working with the sheriff’s office in 1985 as a jailor and became a certified deputy in 1987. Since starting at TCSO, Woodruff has been a deputy sheriff, sergeant and lieutenant in patrol, captain over administration, public information officer and chief deputy, before ultimately running for sheriff in 2012, a job he has served since.

Woodruff said when he got out of school before joining law enforcement, he worked in a small plant that has since closed down. He said at one point he also took a three-year leave to try out real estate but found out he wasn’t cut out for it.

“I took about a three-year leave and went and tried out real estate, and it just wasn’t for me and I knew that law enforcement was my calling and what I meant to do, so I came back, and I’ve been back ever since,” Woodruff said.

Turner said after college he became a Georgia State Trooper for three years before going into ministry.

Turner has been in ministry for about nine and a half years, with the last eight being at Teaver Road Baptist Church.

“Last year, I went back in law enforcement with a part-time capacity at the LaGrange Police Department working 30 hours a week, “ Turner said. “Technically, I’m a pastor and a part-time police officer.”

Turner said he put in his resignation at the church to run for sheriff. He plans to finish off there at the end of May.

WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO PURSUE LAW ENFORCEMENT AND BECOME SHERIFF?

Woodruff said he was called toward law enforcement because he wanted to help people, especially in times of crisis.

“I’ve always wanted to help people. I’ve always wanted to try to help people in the worst times of their lives. People call law enforcement when they can’t fix their own problems. That’s always been the call in my mind to try to help people to try to make their life a little easier to try to help them through their problems. That’s my main motivation now, even as sheriff, it’s to try to help people every day through a problem in their life or help them get through a crisis,” Woodruff said.

Turner said he was inspired to go into law enforcement because of his father. Now, he wants to run for sheriff to improve the office.

“I grew up with my dad being sheriff, so I watched him as he served our community and saw how he was able to help people by leading that agency,” Turner said. “That’s probably where my interest in  came from, was just wanting to give back to my community to make a difference.”

“I’ve never had an interest in running [for sheriff] until I went back into law enforcement, and I started seeing firsthand some of the things that I believe need to be fixed that need to be corrected for our community. That agency can be run better and in turn, our community can be safer.”

Turner said he encouraged others that he thought could do the job well, but ultimately they convinced him to run.

“We spent a lot of time in prayer over it, and my wife and I eventually landed on it,” Turner said. “I just feel like it’s time for there to be a change, and there’s things that need to be corrected and came to the conclusion that if no one else is willing to step up and do it and then we have to step up and do it.”

HOW DO YOU STAY CURRENT WITH CHANGES IN LAW AND BEST PRACTICES IN LAW ENFORCEMENT?

Woodruff said TCSO gets regular updates from the Georgia Sheriff’s Association, and they are constantly training.

“Georgia Sheriffs Association Director Terry Norris stays at the Capitol keeps all the 159 sheriffs abreast of what’s going on with the legislature’s new laws that are being created,” Woodruff said. “And of course, we’ve got our training team here that’s headed up by Samantha Duran that keeps her officers up to date on new laws and things that are going to affect every year. We are constantly being updated with new laws to take effect.”

Turner said he has never really been completely out of law enforcement because of his time as a chaplain with the LaGrange Police Department.

“I spent five years as the in-house chaplain for LaGrange Police Department. I helped start their first mental health initiative for officers. It’s been going on now for over 10 years straight,” Turner said.

He said they started the initiative to help improve officer longevity in their career, their quality of life and to prevent issues such as burnout and suicides, Law enforcement officer suicides outnumber those killed in the line of duty, Turner said.

HOW DO YOU HANDLE SITUATIONS WHERE THERE’S A CONFLICT BETWEEN ENFORCING THE LAW AND MAINTAINING COMMUNITY RELATIONSHIPS?

Woodruff said that communication is key as well as explaining why they are doing what they are doing.

“I think you have to explain the reason why. You tell people why you’ve got to do something, or why you’re having to make a change and explain what’s going on,” Woodruff said.

Woodruff said a good example is when the jail had the COVID outbreak, some people were panicked and thought their loved ones were in danger.

“We held a press conference, and I stood out there and explained what was going on and what we were having to do, which was to separate our sick inmates from our well inmates and then use good common sense,” Woodruff said. “Then, I allowed them to come in and see their loved one to make sure that they were OK. That settled a big storm that was brewing. A lot of people were very scared.”

Woodruff noted that he also worked with the courts to make sure only people who needed to be in jail were locked up.

Turner offered similar thoughts, saying communication is extremely important.

“I think that being able to explain to the citizens why we’re enforcing a law, what the reasoning behind it is, the process behind it, how it affects them as citizens if this law is not upheld, trying to get on common ground with them, but also a huge part of that communication is listening,” Turner said. “It’s very easy for us as humans to grow numb to the things we see sometimes and so we may develop a blind spot where we need to listen to the community as well.”

WHY DO YOU BELIEVE YOU ARE THE BEST CANDIDATE FOR SHERIFF IN OUR COMMUNITY?

“I’ve got the experience. Being here for 30 years, I’ve worked just about every job you could work in this agency, so I know when I say I know what you’re going through. I know how you feel. I’ve dedicated most of my adult life to law enforcement and to serving the people of Troup County. I appreciate them in trusting this job to me, and I’ve never taken it lightly. I take this job very seriously. I know I’m a servant to the people. My job is to literally serve the people of Troup County,” Woodruff said.

Woodruff listed a few accomplishments in his 12 years in office. He said they established video visitation, finished Pod C in the jail, created a citizens firearms class which is coming up on its 26th class, and doubled the size of the work release program.

“We partnered with our police departments, we’ve rebuilt bridges, and we work hand in hand with each police department and the marshal’s office and the state patrol in our jurisdiction because we all fight crime together,” Woodruff said.

“I think that with my experience, my integrity, my knowledge and my proven ability that I can get things done, I hope I’ve proven to the people of Troup County over these past 12 years that I’ve been a good leader, and I will continue to be a good leader and serve the people,” Woodruff said.

Turner said his unique background and fresh perspective make him the candidate Troup County needs.

“I have a unique background,” Turner said. “When I worked at the state agency, I worked in many different counties from Harris County, all the way up to Murray County, on the Tennessee-Georgia line. I’ve worked with countless municipalities, so I’ve seen various ways they conducted business, different methods and techniques that they utilized and to better reach their community to effectively enforce the law in their community and to keep people safe.”

“I think that my time as a pastor makes me pretty special for this job as well because in that I’ve dealt with community members. During the Derek Chauvin and George Floyd riots, I was there for the community in such a way that tried to help facilitate healing and a hurtful time for our country,” Turner said.

“I understand the complaints and the problems that civilians have, but also, I have a fresh set of eyes a the agency. I haven’t been at that agency for 30 years, so I’m bringing a whole unique perspective that is well-rounded and a lot of different ways with fresh ideas. And I believe that that makes me someone that is a very viable candidate that can come in and reenergize the agency, refocus the attention where it needs to be and better serve our community.”