Former Sgt. Larry Jones, a true Flagler County native, now wants to be sheriff
Unlike the rest of the candidates for sheriff this year, Larry Jones has lived in Flagler County for his whole life. He was raised in Bunnell and worked for the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office for 30 years before retiring in 2014. Now, he wants to be the sheriff.
I sat across from Jones at a large conference table in April, at a real estate office, to discover what led him to this campaign. He is 55 years old, wears glasses, and has a shaved head. That day, he was wearing a plain green T-shirt tucked into khaki pants.
He’s running as a Democrat in the Aug. 30 primary, in hopes of defeating his old boss, Jim Manfre, who is running as the incumbent.
Childhood in segregation
Jones’ father drove a cement truck for a living; his mother was a school custodian. He grew up poor, he said: “It was quiet. We didn’t have a whole bunch of money.” He ate potatoes, cabbages, greens.
As a result, he said, “I learned to be a better person, to provide more for my kids. I want my kids to be better than me, because my parents always preached to us to be better than they were. My dad made us work hard, to never take a handout. He was a stickler on that. I’ve been working ever since I was 12 years old.”
His early experience in school was shaped in part by segregation. In those years, he recalled, he was not allowed to cross a particular ditch in town. “We just had to stay in our black community. Back in the day, we used to ride our bikes out to Espanola, down County Road 13, to see my grandmother. They used to sick dogs on us.”
One of his father’s friends was Wynell Williams, who was a law enforcement officer. Jones noticed that when there was a fight, Williams would break it up. He would also look out for Jones and his siblings to make sure they weren’t getting into trouble. Those interactions shaped Jones’ views on law enforcement and inspired him to eventually become a deputy himself.
“It was helping the people,” Jones recalled. “I wanted to help the community.”
Beginning a family and a career
After graduating from Flagler Palm Coast High School in 1979, Jones worked in construction for Mack Asphalt. But, he said, “That wasn’t my cup of tea.”
He decided, with the blessing of his girlfriend, Michelle, who would later become his wife, that he wanted to become a deputy.
“Michelle supported it probably until she seen the first paycheck,” Jones recalled with a smile. “She was real proud of me because I had a passion for it and it was something I wanted to do.”
To make up for a big pay cut (from almost $20,000 per year in construction to about $9,000 per year as a deputy), Jones had to sell his car and his truck.
“The last thing I sold — I’ll never forget it — was a .357 Magnum,” Jones said. He sold it to his brother, Laricky Jones, who was a school teacher.
Years later, when Jones was retiring from the Sheriff’s Office, he asked Laricky if he could buy it back, but Laricky refused. “He said he didn’t know where it was at,” Jones recalled. “I got hot and went home. Then, at my retirement party, my brother presented me with my gun. He had told my wife, ‘I got a plan for him. When he retires, I’m going to give him the gun back.’ … And here I am, ready to go to blows with him.”
"Becoming a father made me more responsible. I knew I had to take care of these kids."
Jones and Michelle had three children (Redrick, 1980; Kyla, 1985; Ty, 1990) and adopted a fourth at birth (Tajh, 1997).
“Becoming a father made me more responsible,” he said. “I knew I had to take care of these kids. It all rolled back to what Daddy had installed in me: You have to go out there and work hard and provide for your family.”
Jones began his career in the corrections department. At the jail, he found that he was able to talk to the inmates and change their perception of law enforcement. “Instead of hurting people, I was helping them,” he said.
Then, he was transferred to road patrol under Sheriff Robert McCarthy. Jones calls McCarthy an “awesome guy.” He said, “I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for him. He’s the one who opened the door for me and gave me the opportunity to shine.”
Disciplined at the Sheriff’s Office
He also appreciated McCarthy’s style of handling problems. “He was a cop’s cop,” he said. “If he had a problem with you, he was coming to you. You weren’t going to hear it through the grapevine.”
I asked Jones if he had ever been called in for discipline himself. He said, “No, but I seen him call other guys in.”
A week or two after our interview, however, I looked at Jones’ personnel file and found several disciplinary issues recorded in memos and letters sent by Capt. Rick Adamy to McCarthy. So, while it might be true that Jones didn’t get called in to meet with the sheriff himself over these matters, he certainly was on McCarthy’s radar.
One of the first instances was in 1985, just a year after he was hired. According to a document in the file, Jones played a practical joke on a woman and pretended to arrest her. He also was accused of adjusting the neck of a female deputy after she told him not to touch her, and saying a few other things to women who then reported it to Jones’ supervisor.
Jones didn’t tell me this during our interview, but he was demoted from the rank of sergeant to corporal for about 10 months in 1995. He says it wasn’t for sexual harassment, but part of the recommendation was that he should take training on sexual harassment.
In 1996, he was restored to the rank of sergeant, with the following note from Adamy: “It has been 9.5 months since his demotion. I have observed Cpl. Jones and commend his attitude and behavior during the past 9.5 months. Instead of taking what happened to him as a negative situation, he made it positive. I believe that Cpl. Jones understands why he was demoted and will not let it happen again. I request that Cpl. Jones be eligible for promotion.”
The demotion could explain why Jones never rose above the rank of sergeant. When I asked him during our April interview, he explained his lack of promotion this way: “I wasn’t a favorite.” In the personnel file, he wrote a letter accusing Adamy of “headhunting,” or singling him out in a negative way.
Despite being stuck at sergeant for three decades, Jones said that he always had it in his mind to run for sheriff eventually.
Dangers of the job
But Jones’ personnel file is also full of commendations. In 30 years as a deputy, he has gained experience that he feels would make him a good sheriff.
Among the cases that stand out to him from his career are two from the early 1990s. In one case, with the help of a K9, he was able to arrest two drug dealers from Miami en route to Georgia.
“Another case that really devastated me was a case in Bunnell,” he recalled. “A guy broke into a house and abducted a girl and took her out into the woods and raped her.”
Jones said he was the night shift supervisor that night, and they set up a perimeter to search for the suspect, who ended up being someone he knew personally. The man was arrested, but it was a sobering experience for Jones.
"The young kids growing up now, they don’t respect themselves, they don’t respect law enforcement. It’s more dangerous to be a cop now than it used to be."
“I had a daughter that was the same age as the girl that was abducted,” Jones recalled. “I was working that night. So he could have broken into my house and took my daughter.”
Although that didn’t deter him from continuing his dream to become sheriff one day, Jones respects the dangers of the job, and, he said, “It’s gotten worse. The young kids growing up now, they don’t respect themselves, they don’t respect law enforcement. It’s more dangerous to be a cop now than it used to be.”
From McCarthy, to Manfre, to Donald Fleming, and back to Manfre again, Jones has seen many styles of management in the Sheriff’s Office.
Sometimes, he said, he got “shuffled around” from road patrol to the jail to the Palm Coast Precinct.
“I didn’t understand why I was getting tossed around like that,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t know.”
He added, “I thought it sucked.” But, he also said, “I always did my job.”
I asked for his perspective on Don Fleming, and he said, “The guys like Fleming.” He said he was surprised Fleming lost in 2012 because it seemed he was well liked in the department.
“We are held to a higher standard. That’s what the perception of the community says.”
But, he said, when the Hammock Dunes incident came to light, in which Fleming was fined by the Ethics Commission for not reporting his free membership to the Hammock Beach Resort, it mattered to the deputies.
“If everybody else gotta pay, you should have to pay,” Jones said. “We are held to a higher standard. That’s what the perception of the community says.”
I asked him if he thought that was fair.
“Absolutely,” he said. “We’re supposed to be upholding the law, not violating the law.”
Christmas with a Deputy
In 2008, Jones felt he was doing so well in his job that he told his wife one day, “I want to give back. What do you think about taking kids Christmas shopping?”
That year, he used his own money and brought about a dozen kids shopping. He would take recommendations from other deputies as to which families needed help providing Christmas presents, and he would invite the families to participate. The second year, there were 26 kids, and today, it’s a 501c3 that serves 100 kids each year.
“It’s awesome,” Jones said. “It brings tears to my eyes every year.”
Thanks to the community’s support, he is able to raise about $15,000 per year to fund the program.
What would a Jones administration look like?
One of the themes from Jones’ interview was respect. He said putting on a law enforcement uniform is a “high like you would never have before.” The uniform gives you the respect of the community.
But, the uniform is not enough.
“I want to bridge the gap between the community and law enforcement,” he said. “Right now, law enforcement don’t treat the community the way they should be treated.”
He wants to see deputies holding the door for people as they go into stores. He wants to see deputies smile and wave to people when they’re acknowledged at stop lights. Today, he said, “They don’t give a wave, no nod.” The respect issue seemed to be personal for Jones. He said, “I did 30 years on the force, and you can’t even wave at me? That’s the problem we’ve got in the community.”
"Everybody wants to be treated equally. That’s all they want."
He added later, “Everybody wants to be treated equally. That’s all they want.”
If Jones is elected, he said he will expand the Police Athletic League program. He would also increase the role of the school resource officers to be mentors and role models.
“We need to catch them when they’re down here, when Johnny is 5 years old,” he said. “We need to drill it into his head, ‘You can be a lawyer, a doctor.’ And if he hears that enough, you won’t have him sagging his pants in middle school and saying, ‘F the police.’”
If elected, Jones said he will compile a database of the elderly who live alone. That way, deputies can check on people and know whom to call if there is any trouble.
He said he’s not worried about the fact that he didn’t rise above the rank of sergeant. Compared to the other men running for sheriff, he said he has a big advantage: “I have 30 years here. They’re trying to get to know the people in the community, and I already know them.”