Fairfax County's embattled Sheriff James D. Swinson yesterday denounced as "political bunk" an unofficial citizens panel's urging that he resign and said he would stay in office until his term expires on Dec. 31.
"I'm an old warrior," said Republican Swinson, who decided earlier this year not to seek reelection for a fifth term. "I know political bunk when I see and and hear it.... It's my intention to serve out my term."
The panel, referred to as a "public hearing board," includes three prominent Democrats, state Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan (Fairfax), cochairman Rep. Herbert E. Harris II (Va.), and Fairfax Supervisor Warren I. Cikins (Mount Vernon).
The 15-member board was appointed by a citizens' group in the Rte. 1 corridor of southern Fairfax County, an organization formed to deal with what residents saw as deteriorating relations between their community and county law enforcement agencies.
The most prominent incident involved Donald Ferguson, a 28-year-old black resident of Gum Springs who died of kidney failure at Western State Hospital last Dec. 8 after developing delirium tremens at the Fairfax County Jail. The community accused Swinson, who is in charge of the jail, with negligence in the death.
Ferguson "was not given medical care," the board said yesterday in its report. "He was trussed up like an animal. We believe Donald Ferguson would not have died in the custody of the sheriff or the state if his illness had been diagnosed and treated."
While noting that Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. said there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Swinson or his aides, Gartlan said there was ample evidence to remove the sheriff for "incompetency, neglect of duty (and) misuse of office."
But the report said any effort to remove Swinson under Virginia law could not be completed before his term ends in less than five months. Therefore, the panel called on Swinson to quit.
The board also called the sheriff to be appointed by local officials instead of elected so the county government can "exercise control over and insure the competence of (its) officials."
Swinson said that suggestion would not remove politics from the sheriff's office, one of several locally elected positions that were created by the Virginia Constitutions. An appointed sheriff would be subject to the political whims of a majority of the county Board of Supervisors, Swinson said.
The sheriff acknowledged that Ferguson had not been given medical ordered by a doctor, but he said there was no systematic negligence at the jail. A report, ordered by the supervisors and due to be released Sept. 10, "will say that the jail has an excellent medical section - one of the best in the country," Swinson said.
In another area, the board called for the creation of elected "citizen-police councils" in each police district to monitor what happens to citizen complaints and to develop ways of improving police-community relations.
Earlier this year, after the board held hearings on the Ferguson case and grievances against the police, County Chief Richard A. King announced that "police-citizen advisory committees" would be established in each district.
However, Gartlan said the groups do not go far enough because they are not elected and can't review citizen complaints.
Both Gartlan and Rep. Harris rejected suggestions yesterday that the board's findings werepolitically motivated.
"I think it is a little bit sick to inject partisanship into a matter that literally affects the lives of the citizens of Fairfax County," Gartlan said. "There is no political paydirt( in Democrats attacking Republican Swinson). It can't affect his future. He's retiring."
Fairfax Board Chairman John F. Herrity, the county's top Republican officeholder and a previous critic of the panel's composition, declined yesterday to comment on the report.
Shortly after the panel held its widely publicized hearings, Herrity had complained that the "only Republican invited was the hangee, Mr. Swinson, and I was a little concerned about that...I think to date this thing has been handled on a pretty partisan basis."
Calvin L. Ferguson, a cousin of the prisoner, praised the board's work. "I think it's a beautiful report," he said. "As to how come they are all Democrats, those are the folks that are serving the community. No Republicans approached us to show us they were concerned."