By Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 1, 2010; B04
BERWYN HEIGHTS, Md. -- Prince George's County Sheriff Michael A. Jackson kicked off his campaign for county executive Wednesday, saying he was the only candidate in a crowded field with "executive-level management experience," and casting his opponents as "would-be competitors."
"I have the heart for the job. I have the experience for the job," Jackson (D) told the enthusiastic crowd of about 200 who interrupted his speech with chants of "We Like Mike!" while gathered outside his alma mater, Crossland High School. "Oh yes, I will be your next county executive."
Jackson enters the race with high name recognition, having already won countywide elections, and can trumpet a law-and-order background in an area where crime continues to be a front-and-center campaign issue. But he is also sure to face questions on the road to the September Democratic primary about several controversies that have plagued his agency during his tenure, one of which emerged just days ago.
On Monday, The Post reported that one of Jackson's deputies was arrested March 11, then let go without facing criminal charges, after his personal car was found in a ditch and he failed a field sobriety test, authorities said. The incident prompted multiple internal affairs investigations and a brief suspension of the county police sergeant who ordered the deputy released.
Jackson was also at the center of a media firestorm after his deputies raided the home of Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo in 2008, and SWAT team members fatally shot Calvo's two dogs. The raid was conducted during a drug investigation, and authorities later said Calvo and his wife were victims of a smuggling scheme that used a FedEx driver to ship drugs to their house. To the outrage of Calvo, Jackson said after an internal probe on the matter that his "deputies did their job to the fullest extent of their abilities."
In September, a jury in Prince George's County awarded $261,000 to a woman who said she was pepper-sprayed and punched by sheriff's deputies after they forced their way into her Greenbelt apartment to serve an arrest warrant on a man who was not there. The jury found that by following sheriff's office procedures, they violated the woman's civil rights.
Jackson said he is not concerned that the controversies will detract from his campaign.
"In leadership, you're going to have issues, or concerns that people are going to bring about, and we'll address them," he said in an interview after his speech. "We deal in fact. That's the difference between us and those who may be naysayers. . . . How would it look for me, the leader of an agency, to not give my people the benefit of the doubt?"
Jackson said the deputy involved in the recent suspected DUI incident remains on duty pending an internal affairs investigation, and that he would release the results of that probe when it is completed. He also expressed regret over the outcome of the 2008 drug raid, but repeated that his deputies had followed procedures correctly.
"We are sorry. I told the mayor that," Jackson said. "I called him up and I told him that we are sorry about that. Nobody wants to see animals killed. We all love pets. . . . There's no ill intent there. Our intention remains to get drugs off the street."
Such explanations have not satisfied Calvo, who has a pending lawsuit against the sheriff's office and county police over the incident. Calvo released a statement Wednesday that said electing Jackson "would be an embarrassment."
Jackson is facing strong competition in the primary, the likely predictor of the overall winner in the heavily Democratic county. Former delegate Rushern L. Baker III (D) is widely considered to be a leading contender in the race. Del. Gerron S. Levi (D-Prince George's), County Council members Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville) and Tony Knotts (D-Temple Hills), and Henry C. Turner Jr., chairman of the county's commission for veterans, are also running.