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Montgomery Co sheriff's candidate feels backlash over comments about veterans

Montgomery Co sheriff's candidate feels backlash over comments about veterans (Image 1) (Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

CHRISTIANSBURG (WSLS 10) - Montgomery County Sheriff's candidate Lisa Gardner is stumping for votes in Christiansburg while finding herself in the middle of a social media firestorm.

But Gardner said the things people are saying about her are untrue.

"These are lies. These are false accusations and what I said I believe was taken out of context and misconstrued," Gardner said.

She said it all started with a thread, which she referred to as a private conversation, on closed group on Facebook in which she talks about her goal of community policing and demilitarizing the sheriff's department. A screen-grab of the post sent to WSLS 10 and authenticated by Gardner reads, "The demilitarization of a sheriff's department does not only include equipment, it includes soldiers that have "problems" who want to be deputies. We do not need soldiers.... we need community-based deputies with community policing in mind."

She also said in the thread, "Anyone who touts their 'military training' and their successes as a soldier scare me. They are not the kind of people we need as community deputies...we're trying to demilitarize local law enforcement agencies."

The backlash was swift.

One commenter wrote, "It is patently offensive to me that you would discriminate against my 8 million brothers in arms with such a blanket pejorative."

Gardner responded and engaged in a back-and-forth with various people in the series of comments provided to WSLS 10. She ultimately ended the thread, saying, " I am not going to let people argue, fight or post their own discriminating opinions on this group anymore. If they want to debate, they can find a blog."

Another posted, "Your opinion wasn't discriminating? I cannot and will not support someone who is so against a generalized group. Especially when this 'group' has more government militia experience...regardless of your outrageois (sic) prejudice against certain 'people' who may have this background. It's amazing to me how you keep portraying this "community outreach policy" when in fact...some of our community is in fact our beloved veterans."

Two candidates for sheriff, George Jackson and Hank Partin, are both veterans. Gardner said the backlash, including threats, came from people across the country.

"Threatened and scared, intimidated, harassed on social media," she said in a post. "Just today I blocked 250 people and reported them because of threats."

Gardner said her philosophy of community policing means meeting people with dignity and compassion and not with force or aggression.

"Getting rid of the tanks or the military grade equipment and uniforms that the police are now wearing," Gardner said.

She said she supports vets in the department and isn't discriminating.

"Absolutely not. In fact, I have - I can call two or three veterans - three actually right now who I've promised jobs to before this controversy even happen," Gardner explained.

Gardner said they, like everyone who applies for a job, will go through the same hiring process.

"We need to do a better screening and somehow or the other make sure the people we are hiring veterans or anyone that may have PTSD issues as peace officers in our community are not a threat to public safety," Gardner explained.

WSLS 10 reached out to the three other candidates. Montgomery County Chief Deputy Robbie Hall said he wants to run a campaign the way he lives his life - keeping things positive. He said Gardner was the first to "like" his campaign page. He went on to say he was not saying anything negative.

Virginia Tech Officer George Jackson said, as a veteran and someone who supports veterans, it's unfortunate she (Gardner) made the comments she made. Jackson said he can't turn his back on them.

Captain Hank Partin, also a veteran, said he loves this country and veterans and had no comment other than, our veterans are one of our greatest assets.