Local Politics

Two challenge longtime Johnston County sheriff

Posted October 20, 2010 4:16 p.m. EDT
Updated October 21, 2010 3:57 p.m. EDT

— Johnston County voters will have to choose between a familiar face and one of two new ones when they elect a sheriff next month.

For the past 12 years, Sheriff Steve Bizzell has led investigations into everything from murders to moonshiners. Crime rates have dropped in Johnston County over the last decade, and Bizzell often turns a familiar catch phrase when talking about catching criminals.

"Basically, (we're) where the rubber meets the road," he says.

Challenging him in the upcoming election are Newton Grove Police Chief Frankie Harrell, an unaffiliated candidate, and Democrat Gerry Mouzon, a retired state trooper. The biggest push is coming from Mouzon.

Mouzon said working with high schools to lower teen driving deaths is one of his goals. At least 42 teens have died on Johnston County roads in the last six years.

"I'm having a lot of people come up and say something has to be done about our kids on these roadways," he said.

Both Mouzon and Harrell say they plan to focus on community policing.

Bizzell declined to comment about the campaign, but he recently issued a statement saying that his record speaks for itself.

"I have built an effective team of trained professionals that continue to serve the public in an effective and efficient manner every day," he said in the statement. "I have managed the sheriff's office in a conservative manner, keeping in mind who's paying the bills. I have also provided the equipment and other resources necessary to enable all employees to perform their duties."

Besides comments on a few investigations, Bizzell hasn't spoken much to the media since September 2008, when controversy erupted over published comments he made regarding Latinos in Johnston County.

Bizzell was quoted as saying "Mexicans are trashy" and "breed like rabbits." He immediately issued a written apology about the comments.

The American Civil Liberties Union initially said it would investigate the sheriff's office to see if there were any patterns of racial profiling. ACLU officials say they remain committed to an investigation but note that limited resources makes the process a slow one.

Mouzon said he was disappointed in Bizzell's comments but won't make them a campaign issue.

He knows what it's like to face controversy – the Highway Patrol demoted him after he had an affair with another trooper's wife. He said he and his wife, Stephanie, worked through it and stayed together.

"We dealt with it head on, never tried to cover it up. I've always been open with it," he said.

When it comes time to go to the polls, local voters say the campaign for sheriff is on their minds.

"Gerry Mouzon is an interesting challenger, and I think he'd do a good job. He has a lot of experience," Yoneka Trent said.

"Everybody I'm affiliated with thinks Bizzell is doing an outstanding job," Benny Powell said.