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St. Louis sheriff candidates compete for open seat

Left to right. Top, Vernon Betts, Joe Vaccaro, Charley "Big Will" Williams, Bottom: Johnnie M. Chester, Jimmie Matthews
Liz Schlemmer and provided photos
Left to right. Top, Vernon Betts, Joe Vaccaro, Charley "Big Will" Williams, Bottom: Johnnie M. Chester, Jimmie Matthews

Several candidates are vying to replace long-time St. Louis Sheriff Jim Murphy, who is retiring after holding the office since 1989.

The St. Louis sheriff's office is responsible for the security of the 31 courtrooms of the Twenty-Second Judicial Circuit Court. The office also serves court papers and eviction notices.

The sheriff manages about 175 appointed deputy sheriffs who serve as bailiffs and security officers who transport prisoners from court to jail or prison. 

We asked each of the candidates a set of questions dealing with their qualifications, views of the office and priorities. The responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Vernon Betts

  • Former St. Louis sheriff deputy for three years
  • 28 years experience at Ameren, primarily as supervisor in treasury operations
  • Associate's degree in criminal justice from Forest Park Community College, 2014
  • Executive board member of the NAACP and of 100 Black Men 

Policy suggestion: upgrade administrative systems and increase safety of deputy sheriffs

Johnnie M. Chester

  • St. Louis Deputy sheriff for 21 years
  • Founder and pastor of Prophesy Mission Baptist Church
  • Former security officer 10 years with St. Louis Housing Authority
  • Taught private security class at Watterson College

Policy suggestion: expand deputy sheriffs' duties to offer neighborhood security in support of police

Sheriff candidate Johnnie Chester introduces himself to voters.

Jimmie Matthews

  • Pastor of Riverview Boulevard Baptist Church
  • Former alderman and committeeman of the 27th Ward
  • Former teacher and real estate broker
  • Bachelor's degrees in business administration and education and master's in special education

Policy suggestion: offer higher education in law enforcement for deputies

Sheriff candidate Jimmie Matthews introduces himself to voters.

Joe Vaccaro

  • St. Louis alderman of the 23rd Ward
  • Serves on Public Safety and Ways and Means committees for St. Louis Board of Alderman
  • Former owner and manager of Hampton Car Wash
  • Petitioned to keep sheriff's office an elected position

Policy suggestion: address personnel issues in the department

Sheriff candidate Joe Vaccaro introduces himself to voters.

Charley "Big Will" Williams 

  • Deputy sheriff for three years
  • Served nearly 15 years with the U.S. Marshal's Service
  • Corrections officer seven years with the Federal Bureau of Prisons and St. Louis County Justice Services
  • Former U.S. Army Sergeant

Policy position: provide law enforcement training and upgrade equipment

Sheriff candidate Charley Williams introduces himself to voters.

One common theme among the candidates' platforms is an intention to address personnel issues within the office. Candidates discussed whether the sheriff's office has had inconsistent pay and promotion systems and said they want to re-evaluate the office's pay system.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has reported on a 2010 lawsuit two deputy sheriffs brought against Sheriff Murphy. The deputies claimed the sheriff established a racially hostile work environment and won the case. 

Several candidates discussed upgrades to modernize the department citing needs for better record-keeping and providing deputies with law enforcement training and equipment, such as bullet-proof vests.

Candidate Betts referred Missouri State Auditor Susan Montee's 2010 report on the sheriff's office criticizing its personnel policies and record keeping.

All candidates said that keeping the courts safe for the sheriff's deputies and the general public was among their highest priorities.