Clark County sheriff candidate Rey Reynolds says that if he is elected, he will act as a constitutional sheriff, meaning he wouldn’t enforce laws he decides are unconstitutional.
Reynolds, a corporal with the Vancouver Police Department and one of three candidates running for the position, saw pushback on his stance from his opponents during a virtual meeting Tuesday with The Columbian’s Editorial Board.
John Horch, the chief criminal deputy at the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, and David Shook, a patrol deputy at the sheriff’s office, are also running for the position. Two-term Sheriff Chuck Atkins is not seeking reelection.
In particular, Reynolds said he would not enforce Initiative 1639, which enhanced background check requirements for gun sales and raised the legal purchase age of a semiautomatic rifle to 21, despite the fact it was upheld by the courts.
“As your sheriff, and as the sheriff of Clark County, there are decisions that have to be made about whether we will enforce or not enforce an unconstitutional — in my opinion — law, or an unjust law, which I consider 1639,” Reynolds said.
Horch and Shook said they would enforce the laws they swore oaths to uphold throughout their law enforcement careers.
“I am not the sole authority of declaring a law unconstitutional or not,” Horch said. “Whether I agree or disagree with the intent or if something’s going to make something better should have no influence on whether I enforce or not enforce a law, as sheriff.”
Shook agreed that whether a law is constitutional or not is up to the courts, not the sheriff.
“For eight times now — nine in the military — I swore to uphold the U.S., the state Constitution, and then of course whatever state I’ve been working in, the laws of that state,” Shook said. “I think it’s important that as sheriff you’re balancing protecting people’s rights, but you’re also following the laws and the Constitution of the state and the country.”
The candidates also disagreed on what to do about the Clark County Jail, which they all acknowledged isn’t meeting the county’s needs.
Although Horch said he’d build a new jail if money was no object, he said he’d first gather all of the stakeholders to decide on a path forward.
Shook noted that the community has been meeting and talking about the jail issue for years and has yet to settle on a plan. He proposed expanding the facility to the west before returning to upgrade the old facility. He said he’d bring his knowledge of the Washington County Jail in Oregon — which he says is a model for what the Clark County Jail could achieve — to the position.
Reynolds noted the role the agency’s staffing shortage plays in limiting the number of people the jail can accommodate. He suggested hiring a private security firm to staff the Juvenile Detention Center until the sheriff’s office can get enough staff itself.
Horch could be seen shaking his head during Reynolds’ pitch, and Shook noted that the agency can’t hire a private firm because of the sheriff’s office’s guilds and training requirements. Horch said the city doesn’t permit felony offenders to be held in the juvenile center.
Reynolds proposed a supplemental budget to boost the pay for deputies and make the agency more attractive to new hires.
“It’s critical that we start off, right now, to stop the bleeding,” Reynolds said. “It is because of pay. It is because of the toxicity of the environment that is in the sheriff’s office, and we have to change that. And we can change that through leadership.”
Shook disagreed with Reynolds’ supplemental budget idea, noting that 75 percent of the county’s budget already goes to law and justice.
“To just say that I’m going to add more money — I actually look at it a little bit differently,” Shook said. “I think there are some areas in our existing $68 million (budget) that we can reallocate and look at trying to find efficiencies — going back and finding those programs that are no longer effective at providing public safety services to our community.”
Horch highlighted his involvement in conversations with the county council about setting the department’s budget and said there’s a process for submitting supplemental budget proposals, which the sheriff’s office does all the time. He also disagreed that there’s any room to trim the sheriff’s office’s budget when the agency is hustling to hire more people.
“The sheriff’s office budget needs to get looked at, with the county council, come January, and sit down and map this out, a strategic plan of how we move forward together so we can get the correct amount of deputies out there for their safety and for the public’s safety,” Horch said.
Reynolds, who has 38 years of law enforcement experience, said he hopes to bring new ideas to the sheriff’s office and to take action instead of continuing to talk about the issues.
Horch noted his endorsements, including those of former Sheriff Garry Lucas, Cowlitz County Sheriff Brad Thurman, Skamania County Sheriff Dave Brown and former Clark County Jail Chief Ric Bishop. He said no one cares more about the sheriff’s office than him, after his 33-year career at the agency.
Shook has the endorsement of his former boss, retired Washington County Sheriff Rob Gordon. He brings 25 years of experience at that agency and believes he has the perspective and solutions to solve the sheriff’s office’s problems.