At an outdoor fundraising dinner at the upscale Frigate’s restaurant in Melbourne last month, Alton Edmond’s campaign manager Josephine Hunter compared her boss’s effort to unseat Brevard County Sheriff to the biblical tale of David versus Goliath in introductory remarks.
The comparison was obviously so on target, Edmond asked the audience just before he took the microphone: “Does anybody have smooth stones?”
Edmond, a Black 31-year-old criminal defense attorney with little management and no law enforcement experience, is going to need all the help he can get if he is going to pull off an upset in this predominantly Red county by ousting a nationally known two-term Republican sheriff, who boasts a direct line to President Donald Trump.
At stake are not just partisan divides but two very different visions of policing.
On one hand, there’s Ivey’s popular, self-promoting, social-media charged tough on crime approach that supports using internet videos to target criminals and limited use for vascular neck restraints, while opposing body cams for his deputies. On the other, Edmond promises to buy body cameras for the BCSO, forbid all neck holds, and stop making what he calls “dehumanizing” social media videos.
2020 elections: Meet the candidates running for Brevard County Sheriff
Edmond’s critics say he is unqualified for the job. They say he is too young, lacks the necessary hands on law enforcement know how, and that his support for Black Lives Matter demonstrators disqualifies him.
But the former assistant public defender, nearly two decades younger than his opponent. believes his life’s trajectory growing up in a predominantly Black government housing project on the south shores of Lake Okeechobee qualifies him to be Brevard’s next sheriff and bring the changes that he says will improve policing in the county.
“Growing up in Clewiston, Florida, I had to overcome a whole lot of things,” he said, launching into remarks for his supporters. “When my father abandoned my mother and I, I had to learn how to be a man without a man in my household,” he said.
Clewiston attorney Daniel Paige, 61, said he watched Edmond grow up, and mentored him throughout his life. He said Edmond always stood out from the crowd, and was curious, and always reading something.
“He wasn’t a follower, he never was one to give in to or go along with the pack,” he said.
Edmond also doesn’t consider himself a party-line Democrat, having been registered without party affiliation for most of his life, and being a strong supporter for the 2nd Amendment. He’s a frequent shooter at The Gun Site Range but will go to Frog Bones to fire his AR-15. He’s also pitching himself as fiscally conservative and for smaller government in contrast to a sheriff who had taxes raised to fund his budget and expanded the purview of the Sheriff’s office substantially, taking over port security and animal services and looking to take over Emergency Management.
Ivey declined multiple overtures from FLORIDA TODAY to be interviewed about his platform and record.
Edmond’s mother, he said, became his “superhero” and that admiration translated into an appreciation for law enforcement as a child when he watched her don the uniform of the Hendry County Sheriff’s officer as a Traffic Safety officer. He credits his mother for showing him the power of community engagement by deputies and police.
“I began to see the impact that law enforcement officers can make in their communities, aside from just arresting people, aside from just putting people in jail, aside from just drawing guns and using force. I saw the positive role that law enforcement can make as my mom made me and other kids in the community go to nursing homes and sing to elderly people during Christmas time, as my mom made me sing in the choir at church.”
Edmond points to his own involvement now in several non-profits that work with at-risk youth, and mentors boys at schools throughout the county in addition to sitting on the Cocoa Police citizen advisory committee.
And Edmond still sings. When he moved to Brevard in 2013 he became choir director at the Mt. Moriah AME church in Cocoa, his go-to Karaoke song is “God Bless the USA.”
But is Brevard County interested in a switch from Ivey to Edmond?
If money is a metric for electoral outcome, than Edmond is truly running behind, having been out raised by the Ivey campaign more than three to one: Edmond’s campaign has brought in some $127,000, compared to Ivey who has raised over $404,000. Across the county, large Ivey signs can be seen on nearly every roadway.
And it’s not just in fundraising. Edmond has lost some key endorsements, such as from his former boss, Public Defender Blaise Trettis.
Trettis in his endorsement of Ivey slammed Edmond for having poor judgement.
“I had to fire Alton Edmond when he was an assistant public defender in 2017 because of Edmond’s multiple acts of serious misconduct and bad judgment which included Edmond leaving his loaded pistol on his office desk when he went to court and for secretly recording attorney colleagues and posting the secret recording on his Facebook page.”
Edmond began working for Trettis in 2016, prior to that he was an assistant public defender for the 9th judicial circuit.
The incident of the recordings dates back to a 2016 firearms and legal workshop which included attendees from the state attorney’s office and the public defender’s office.
During the gun range portion of the event, Edmond says a group of colleagues near him began talking about then-President Obama and the Democrats that made him concerned. “They were talking about clearing them out,”
So he opened his iPad and began a Facebook live recording with the camera pointed to his own face, he said. He admits the audio picked up the conversation nearby, but that he began the recording as a matter of self-preservation, because he found the conversation to be disturbing.
Records provided by the Public Defender’s office provide no detail on the content of the 2016 recordings. One of those recorded, retired prosecutor Gary Beatty, said he couldn’t recall the conversation but vehemently denied saying anything that could be perceived as a threat.
Edmond was fired in 2017. Records do show that Edmond was reprimanded for the pistol incident as well as a separate incident in which he was instructed not to wear a tie bearing the words “Black Lives Matter,” taking a $1000 pay-cut.
Edmond stands by his right to have worn the tie, and notes that the pistol was left on the desk of a private office, with the door closed, in a secured building. In a handwritten note to Trettis at the time, he owned the incidents.
“I apologize if anyone was made to feel uncomfortable when they saw my weapon on my desk,” he wrote, adding: “I also apologize if my “Black Lives Matter” necktie offended you or anyone else. The speech on the tie is a representation of a message that is very personal to me, as it stands for the discrimination against Black people in America (especially in the criminal justice system). However, since you’ve instructed me not to wear it anymore, I will refrain from doing so in the office.”
Trettis also attacked Edmond for a Facebook comment in June in which Edmond said that the looting and violence of the riots that happened in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is “a necessary evil.”
“Do I want looting and violence? No. Is it sometimes a necessary evil? Yes,” part of Edmond’s since-deleted post reads. In a subsequent comment Edmond wrote “when it happened people began to listen when people were not listening before.”
Edmond claims the post was taken out of context, and that he did not endorse looting and violence so much as he understood that they happened due to legitimate underlying grievances, referencing the Martin Luther King Jr. quote that “a riot is the language of the unheard” which at the time was used to suggest King was endorsing riots.
Speaking to FLORIDA TODAY, Edmond said of Trettis:
“We just see the world differently.”
Trettis said he’d be surprised if Edmond got 30% of the vote.
Under the state’s constitution no prior law enforcement work is required to be a sheriff and there is precedent for what Edmond is trying to do: Lawson Lamar was an assistant state attorney before he was elected sheriff of Orange County in 1980 and served six consecutive terms.
Edmond says the role of sheriff is primarily that of managing a large agency and setting policy and points to his experience as a business owner and his knowledge of the law as making him qualified for the job. Edmond recently was endorsed by retired Seminole police chief Mike Floyd.
He said the decision to challenge Ivey was in part fueled by the sheriff’s social media video programs “Wheel of Fugitive” and “Cooking up justice.” That first caught Edmond’s eye years ago, and made him think that change might be needed at the Sheriff’s office.
The videos rack up tens of thousands of views on the BCSO Facebook page and have helped catapult Sheriff Ivey to national prominence. While Ivey says the shows engage the public and help get fugitives off the streets, Edmond says it’s dehumanizing and an affront to due process, and questions whether it really does help fight crime.
The production costs for the videos are also an issue, Edmond says, and while the exact costs are unclear due to ongoing issues related to the transparency of the sheriff’s $140 million budget, it appears that at least half a million dollars is allocated towards the sheriff’s social media costs each year.
Edmond said he would rather have that money invested in improving training and providing mental health resources for deputies and inmates. Releasing a detailed, itemized budget to the public is also a core campaign promise along with requiring body-cameras for deputies. Edmond also says he would release video footage captured within the Brevard County Jail of what happened to US Army combat veteran Gregory Lloyd Edwards, which is currently at the center of a court case between FLORIDA TODAY and the sheriff.
Edmond points to Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood, an Independent, who was elected in 2016, as his inspiration for the way to run a sheriff’s office.
Chitwood, who’s earned a reputation for being a no-nonsense lawman and progressive reformer, was endorsed by both the NAACP and the NRA when he won his seat, beating out a Republican candidate described by The Marshall Project as “the favorite of the good ‘Ol boy network.”
Chitwood embraces what is called “guardian policing,” which stands in opposition to the predominant “warrior cop” training philosophy.
Chitwood expressed respect and admiration for Sheriff Ivey, who he has since endorsed, but said, “There’s definitely a difference between the two of us” philosophically.
For Edmond, Chitwood’s ideas on training are applicable in Brevard.
“A lot of people call the police not even intending for someone to get arrested they just want the police to come defuse a situation. Whereas they might want to call a marriage counselor or something, some people call the police because they don’t know who else to call. To have someone respond as a warrior would respond as opposed to how a guardian would respond at most times is very inappropriate,” he said.
This election will show, Edmond said, whether a significant number of voters cross the aisle.
“Just like he’s beloved by a lot of people, he’s created a lot of enemies,” he said. “There are a lot of people within his base — Republicans — that don’t like the way that he does business when it comes to the money in the budget.”
Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon is a watchdog reporter for FLORIDA TODAY. Contact him at 321-355-8144, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @alemzs
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