Constitutional sheriff refuses to comply with bogus state law.
DOVER, Delaware (PNN) - June 15, 2012 - The legislation at the center of a debate over the powers of the Sussex County Sheriff is ready for the governor’s signature after passing the Senate by a slim margin Thursday.
Staff from Governor Jack Markell’s office said he will sign House Bill 325 (which unconstitutionally limits the power of the Sheriff to running tax and foreclosure sales and serving court papers) into law, but gave no timetable.
Sussex County Sheriff Jeff Cristopher said his reading of the Delaware Constitution precludes him from complying with the provisions of the bill, which makes clear that Delaware sheriffs do not have the power to make arrests or investigate crimes that would “conserve the peace”, even though the state Constitution clearly empowers sheriffs to do just that.
“I am forced now to decide between this recently passed Delaware law and upholding my constitutional oath,” he said. “I’m going to do what I need to do in order to keep the peace.”
Since taking office in 2010, Christopher and his deputies have invoked police powers in only a few reported instances, including a traffic stop and the arrest of a fugitive.
Christopher, who claims the state Constitution endows him and his deputies with arrest powers, said he doesn’t intend to “stir things up” by vigorously exercising police authority. However, he said he and his deputies would take things as they come.
“If a situation comes up that (my) deputies feel they have to assert some authority, I’ve always left it to their discretion,” he said. “I’m working under the auspices of them protecting themselves and protecting the citizens.”
Christopher said he is pressing ahead with a lawsuit against the Sussex County Council for voting last year to command him to cease exercising arrest authority in the county, citing the danger of costly lawsuits and insurance claims.