Two former officers are seeking to claim East Feliciana Parish’s top law enforcement job while Sheriff Jeff Travis tries to hold on to the post for a second term in the Oct. 12 election.
Travis is being challenged by fellow Democrat Ronnie Winters and Kintell Danny Scott, who is not affiliated with a political party. All three men have backgrounds in public safety.
Early voting runs Sept. 28 to Oct. 5. If none of the three wins one vote over 50 percent of the ballots cast, then the top two candidates face off in the Nov. 16 runoff.
Travis, 51, a former chief of operations for the Louisiana Department of Corrections, unseated four-term incumbent Sheriff Talmadge Bunch in the 2015 election. An Ethel resident, Travis said his first term has been marked by challenges — including three shootings that alleged serial killer Ryan Sharpe is accused of perpetrating in the parish in 2017.
But there have also been triumphs.
“We have made arrests on every homicide in our parish since the day I took office,” Travis said.
He said he has expanded educational initiatives to better prepare inmates for life after their release from the parish jail. One such program has so far helped about 30 offenders earn their GED diplomas.
Other accomplishments, he said, include maintaining a balanced budget, upgrading the agency’s fleet of vehicles and securing grant funding for a trained dog to aid in drug enforcement efforts.
Travis and his opponents share some of the same priorities for the 2020-24 term.
Travis and Winters both said they will try to find the funds to hire more patrol deputies so there are at least four on each shift. Winters, a 57-year-old retired Louisiana Department of Public Safety officer who lives near Clinton, said he’d look into the many grants available to law enforcement agencies.
The Sheriff’s Office currently has eight full-time patrol positions, Travis said; that number would need to go up to 16 to put four deputies on each shift. Travis is also hoping to give pay raises.
Another common goal for Travis and Winters is improving deputies’ training. Both mentioned growing national concerns about school safety and the importance of being prepared for potential threats.
Winters said he’ll prioritize professionalism. While he emphasized he doesn’t believe the Sheriff’s Office is currently lacking in that area, Winters said he will “make sure they’re (deputies) highly trained, make them the professionals they need to be at all times. … They need to be courteous and held accountable.”
All three candidates spoke of a desire to foster a sense of unity and security in the parish. Travis touted the relationships he has developed with charitable organizations, schools and churches.
Said Winters: “I live out in the country. I like the country life, and I want to make the people feel safe.”
Scott, 43, of Ethel, is focusing on ways to use the position of sheriff to promote community pride.
“People have changed,” Scott said. “People used to care about other people’s kids. Now I guess people have got so caught up in their own lives … they just don’t reach out anymore.”
Scott previously held law enforcement jobs with three agencies in East Feliciana Parish: the Sheriff’s Office as well as the Clinton and Jackson police departments. He now operates a trucking company.
Before his policing career, Scott played professional football in San Francisco. When he returned home to East Feliciana Parish following a knee injury, “it was different.”
“We didn’t have that close-knit community like I remember when I left,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of poverty here in this parish. … We’ve got a lot of mentally ill people, people who need help.”
He said he wants to identify ways to assist those and other groups in need. He envisions creating after-school programs and working with churches to encourage young people to stay away from drugs and violence.
“We’re losing our youth,” Scott said.