After saying he might leave the state, Republican Sussex County Sheriff Jeff Christopher has changed his mind and filed for a second-term.
Christopher – a 26-year veteran of police work – has attracted national attention in his effort to redefine the role of county sheriff, which led to a long legal battle with state and county officials. Christopher holds the state constitution allows his office to carry out law-enforcement duties. The Delaware Supreme Court denied his claim.
Christopher said state code defines the office as a law enforcement agency and the sheriff is defined as a conservator of the peace.
The former Sussex County deputy from Greenwood says he doesn't want to create a county police force, but he wants his staff to be trained and certified as law enforcement officers with arrest powers.
He said in the past the sheriff has followed up on court warrants to make arrests and answered criminal complaints, such as assaults and thefts.
Christopher said as an elected official, he answers to the people. “The Sheriff's Office has been politically eroded to protect other special interests in the county,” he said.
Riding a Republican wave in 2010 Sussex row office races, Christopher bested Democrat Sheriff Eric Swanson with 54 percent of the vote. He has worked to streamline the office, which has generated more than $12 million in sheriff's sales revenue in fiscal years 2010 to 2013.
In June 2012, the Delaware General Assembly passed House Bill 325 denying arrest powers for county sheriffs in Delaware. Christopher simultaneously filed a lawsuit against county officials asking the court to rule that he could carry out law enforcement duties, including traffic stops, crowd control and transporting prisoners.
In March 2013, Superior Court Judge T. Henley Graves ruled Delaware sheriffs do not have arrest powers and cannot act as police officers. That ruling was later upheld by the Delaware Supreme Court.
Christopher will face Robert Lee of Seaford in the Tuesday, Sept. 9, Republican Party primary. Lee has gone on record saying the Sheriff's Office does not need arrest powers to carry out its duties as an officer of the court.