Former Sheriff Jackie Turner Sr. who faithfully served for 14 years as McDowell County’s top law enforcement officer passed away Wednesday morning. He was 72 years old.
Now, his colleagues and former deputies are remembering how well he performed his duties as a law officer, public servant and sheriff of McDowell County.
Dudley Greene, the current sheriff, said to The McDowell News Thursday it was hard for him to describe all of the good qualities his immediate predecessor had.
“I don’t know where to start and I don’t know where to quit,” said Greene of Turner.
Greene worked for all 14 years in Turner’s administration. “I came to know him as he was assuming office in 1994,” said Greene.
And during that time, he got to know Turner very well. Greene worked under him as a detective, a jail administrator and finally a captain of detectives during those 14 years.
“I think he was a remarkable sheriff and a remarkable man in so many ways,” said Greene. “His impact and his legacy continue to be felt. We still try to adhere to that to this day."
A native of McDowell, Turner started his work in law enforcement at an early age with the Marion Police Department. Over the years, he had a successful career with both the Marion police and the McDowell Sheriff’s Office. He was a reserve police officer, patrolman and sergeant at the Police Department. He then served as a detective, a lieutenant over detective division and as captain of the Sheriff’s Office. He was also a former NRA-certified police firearms instructor
In the fall of 1994, Turner was elected sheriff defeating long-time Democratic incumbent Bob R. Haynes.
One of his first priorities as the new sheriff was overseeing the construction of the new jail and law enforcement center on Spaulding Road. The decision to build the new jail and center had already been made by the McDowell County Commissioners before Turner took over as sheriff, according to former County Manager Chuck Abernathy.
But the construction of the new facility was undertaken during his first few years in office. And the Sheriff’s Office under Turner had the responsibility of making sure the new jail operated both efficiently and more securely.
“We do not take security lightly,” he said in 2006.
Another priority of his was hiring the best and most qualified people to do the jobs regardless of their political affiliations or if they had supported him.
“I have always and will continue to choose the very best applicants available to serve in this office without any regard to political affiliation,” he said in 2006.
“Sheriff Turner was a very dedicated public servant,” said Abernathy. “He was very effective and a lot was accomplished. He was quite respected in the law enforcement community.”
During his administration, the Sheriff’s Office stepped up its work at going after meth labs in McDowell and the hard work paid off.
At one time, McDowell topped the state three years in a row for the number of meth lab busts: a total of 129 over that period.
“We are seeing the number of meth labs decline, mostly because of recent legislation restricting the most important ingredients to cook meth and also we have taken as many meth cases through federal court as we could,” said Turner in 2006.
But as the local meth labs were raided, more of the highly addictive and dangerous drug was imported from Mexico.
“We are already preparing for this increase,” said Turner in 2006. “We have committed one local drug officer for two years to a drug enforcement agency task force for western North Carolina. D.E.A. provides two agents, Henderson County one, McDowell County one and hopefully Buncombe and Asheville P.D. will both participate. Our local officer’s salary is being paid from our drug seizure funds, no taxpayer money is being spent for this officer’s salary.”
In another matter, his office focused on cleaning up Little Mountain, a community in Nebo on the McDowell-Burke line where residents were once afraid to walk out of their houses for fear of being maimed or killed. People in Little Mountain could look out their windows and see drug deals taking place right before their eyes. The ground was littered with paraphernalia, beer cans and bottles and other telltale signs of a harsh life, according to an editorial from 2008.
Turner’s undercover officers went there to make a difference in Little Mountain.
In addition, Turner stood up to the video gaming industry, even if it mean a lawsuit. In previous interviews, he said he had heard heart-wrenching stories from local people about family members with gambling addictions who put all of their money into the games time after time. He was strongly opposed to the machines, even when a change in the law allowed him to collect $500 per machine that he registered in the county.
“The money meant nothing. Gambling is illegal, and upholding that law meant everything,” read the 2008 editorial in The McDowell News. “We were there when he went nose to nose with the companies that sued him for not registering their machines. Turner wanted the public to be aware that he was doing his best to keep corruption out.”
Many of the people who worked in Turner’s administration have fond memories of him as a sheriff and a man.
Retired Lt. Brent Rumfelt said “It was a great honor to serve under this man. He made you feel comfortable on the job.”
Rumfelt said he would respond to many calls and find Turner already there on the scene.
“He would always tell me ‘Thought you might need some help, Big B,” said the retired lieutenant. “That’s what he called me.”
Turner was very quiet but when he spoke, you listened, said Rumfelt. He described Turner as “a very wise man who loved his family.”
Rumfelt added, on the humorous side, he never saw a man eat so much peanut butter in his life.
Retired Capt. Brenda Vaughn worked for Turner for all 14 years, starting as a kitchen employee and working her way up to a sergeant in the jail by the time he retired in 2008.
“In my eyes, he was a very tall man,” said Vaughn.
She said Turner was true to himself and others and gave her much more opportunity than she ever deserved.
“A great leader,” said Vaughn of Turner. “He was always kind and caring, always placing the people of McDowell County first in his decisions and actions as their sheriff.”
During his time, Turner and his deputies solved all kinds of crimes from thefts and break-ins to murders. He also worked to improve the relationship with the Sheriff’s Office with various other agencies.
“I am convinced that the relationship between the McDowell County Sheriff’s Office and other city, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies is the very best that they have ever been at least in my 26 years experience,” he said in 2006. “I would encourage anyone to ask officers from other agencies about their working relationship with the sheriff’s office.”
In 2008, Turner felt it was time to retire after a long and dedicated career in law enforcement.
“I appreciate the confidence the people of McDowell County have had in me,” he said in 2008. “It’s the greatest honor that’s ever been given to me by my fellow man. I’ve spent four terms in this office trying not to betray the trust they placed in me. I’ve tried to be honest and fair and I hope the people have seen that.”
Greene was chosen by the local Republican Party to replace Turner.
“He was a man I had the upmost respect and admiration on a personal and professional level,” said Greene. “I never worked for a better boss. He was a hard act to follow. I will say that I was privileged to be selected to replace him and especially honored to have his support and endorsement.”
In an editorial at that time, The McDowell News said Turner “served the people of this county well, day in and day out, for 14 years. He’s definitely one of McDowell’s finest.”