TUPELO • The Lee County Sheriff’s race pits a veteran incumbent against a political newcomer who wants to bring change to the office.
Republican Jim Johnson has been the sheriff since 2004 and has been in law enforcement since 1982. Challenger Jermandy Jackson has only been in law enforcement for six years but wants to make Lee County the safest place in the state to live.
“I decided to run because I am very concerned about the future of law enforcement and the citizens of Lee County,” said Jackson, will turn 33 three days before the Nov. 5 general election.
Jackson responded quickly to the Daily Journal’s request for an interview. The incumbent Johnson did not respond to multiple calls over a six-day period.
Jackson said diversity of the department and an increased presence throughout the county are two key issues facing the sheriff’s office.
“If elected, the first thing I would do is try to employ every nationality we have in the county,” Jackson said. “It helps with racial tension when people see a more diverse force.
“Going around campaigning, I have had a lot of people say they never see a deputy in their area and don’t think the county values their area. I want to see more patrols, especially in the mornings around bus stops.”
Jackson attended Shannon High School and graduated from Nettleton in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice. He began his law enforcement career as a reserve officer with the Tupelo Police Department and has worked for the Verona and Okolona police departments. Jackson is currently on leave from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office while campaigning.
“I’ve done a lot of things for the community, especially the kids,” Jackson said. “If they have something positive to do to occupy their time, it will get them off the streets.”
He would like to see a program similar to the Tupelo Police Athletic League for the county’s youth. It would not only offer an athletic outlet, but also teach manners, how to have a conversation with people, and offer tutoring.
“They are not a lost generation, they are a forgotten generation,” Jackson said. “Many of them don’t know what they want to do with their life. Their lives can be so much more of a success with the right help. That’s why 15 percent of my salary will go back to the community to help kids.”
There has been a lot of support for Jackson in the African American community and there was a pronounced voter registration effort throughout the summer and early fall. Jackson said that effort shouldn’t be limited to just one community.
“We need to get everyone motivated and participating in the election process,” Jackson said.
On the campaign trail, he met several people who thought their felony convictions prevented them from voting. After he pointed out they could still vote with certain felonies, most went ahead and registered.
No matter who is elected sheriff, one pressing issue will be the conditions at the more than 20-year-old, 202-bed county jail. Since July, the jail has consistently had more prisoners than beds. For several days in August, the jail had a dozen or more prisoners than it is designed to hold. In addition to overcrowding, the facility is aging and is in dire need of upgrading, refurbishing or replacing.
In the summer of 2018, Lee County supervisors looked at all three options but balked at building a new 600-bed jail with an estimated price tag of $50 million that would have required a 10 percent increase in ad valorem property taxes.
“The citizens are hit by enough. We don’t need to raise taxes for a $50 million jail,” Jackson said. “I would prefer to refurbish what we have. It was designed to be expanded.
“We could add 75 beds. When that is complete, move some prisoners into the addition, then renovate the pods they were in. By doing them one by one, I feel it would be cheaper on the taxpayer.”
Before doing anything, he would get an outside agency to study the jail and its needs to get an unbiased opinion of the situation and the best way to proceed.
This is Jackson’s first foray into politics. Other than someone stealing several of his campaign signs, including the large one that cost more than $300 each, Jackson said the campaign has been clean.
“From the start I said I would run a clean campaign,” Jackson said. “I am not going to throw any mud.
“I respect (Sheriff Jim Johnson). He’s been there 16 years. We’ve met at events and talked. People think we’re at odds with each other but we’re not. We’re friends.”