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Matthews my 2011 Person of the Year

Posted: December 16, 2011 2:36 p.m.
Updated: December 19, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Like him or not, there is no doubt Sheriff Jim Matthews has made an impact here in Kershaw County.

Whether it was by stirring up controversy over funeral escorts or the alleged possible mishandling of funds under the previous administration in his very first days in office or by cracking down on repeat offenders, Matthews quickly made a name for himself.

I pass no judgments here. Some of you don’t like him at all and, entitled to your opinions, can’t wait for 2014.

Others praise his leadership at the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) believing he’s effected positive change both within the department and out in the community.

When thinking about who I would write about for this column this year, I actually had to dive into some statistics from our website to help me make the decision.

What was the most looked-at story -- even if just for a moment -- on the C-I’s online home?

“Three suspects in custody fourth sought in crime spree. May be connected to earlier home invasions, Food Lion robbery.”

It would be the first of several stories I would write about a countywide crime spree that ended with the home invasion-related death of a 39-year-old local man.

Lest I forget, the Camden Police Department helped with this case since the suspects were said to be involved in the broad-daylight armed robbery of the Dusty Bend Food Lion.

But most of the crime spree took place out in the county, including the man’s murder.

That’s not what really makes the story remarkable for me, although it was terrible enough a spree of crimes.

It was what Matthews’ investigators did afterward.

Later in the year, Matthews announced that several of the suspects were being charged with another major crime -- a 2008 home invasion case that also ended in a death.

I’m not saying that wouldn’t have been done under the previous administration, but I’ve gotten the impression it was done this time because Matthews wanted to both clean up old cases and make sure suspects were kept off the streets for as long as possible.

That was also borne out by an in-depth story I wrote in April about a “revolving door“ of drug suspects. In interviewing Matthews and 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson, I learned of their efforts to get judges to revoke bonds on repeat drug dealing offenders. Not only that, Matthews got the feds involved.

It worked. One of Elgin’s biggest headaches, Jamie Dixon, now sits in a federal prison, unlikely to be back in the neighborhood he plagued behind Blaney Elementary School for decades to come.

Several other drug suspects are awaiting their turn before federal judges.

I’ve recently learned that Matthews plans to take the same fight to repeat offenders of other types of crime, especially burglaries.

He, like many of us in the community, are tired of defendants bonding out of jail only to strike again, be arrested, bond out, commit another crime and so and so on.

As he put it to me about one particular suspect the other day: “It’s like he’s laughing at us.”

I don’t think that suspect’s going to be laughing much longer. At least, he better not.

Crime stories topped most of the list this year, which doesn’t surprise me. We know a lot of people love our Wednesday crime report.

One of the top stories was “Sheriff, chiefs warn officers after Web post. Kershaw County Patriots site links to ‘when to shoot a cop’ article.”

The controversy started when Matthews was alerted to the link on the Patriots’ Facebook page and a “Like” from Patriots member and Kershaw County GOP official Jeff Mattox. The article stated that in cases where someone has shot a cop, the “law enforcer” might be the “bad guy” and the “cop killer” the “good guy.”

More moderate Republicans kicked Mattox off their executive committee -- on a technicality, but they still did it. Then Matthews had to put up with somebody jamming his office’s phone lines with call after call supporting Mattox. A blog site posted “articles” denouncing Matthews and calling for him and others to resign.

Obviously, he hasn’t done so.

Another of our top stories was the one reporting that former Sheriff Steve McCaskill had sued Matthews for defamation. McCaskill and three others, including former narcotics head and Democratic candidate for sheriff David Dowey, have all sued Matthews for $2 million each. They contend that statements Matthews has made while and after appearing before county council in the early days of January damaged their reputations.

We have pointed out in articles -- and I will do so again here -- Matthews never used any of the plaintiffs’ names or titles while making those statements. One could construe he implied things about certain individuals; I won’t contest that. It will be interesting to see what a court thinks.

Regardless of those suits, in my opinion, Matthews’ call for and obtaining of funds for a new traffic enforcement unit, upgrades in the physical fitness requirements for his deputies and apparent commitment to aggressively going after every crime is helping, not hurting, this county.

I do not agree with everything he’s said or done. I couldn’t say that of anyone anyway.

But without doubt, I have no reservations in naming him my 2011 Person of the Year.

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