After hard-fought campaign, Cass Martin wants smooth transition into sheriff’s job
Dora resident Cass Martin said Friday his “phone hasn’t stopped ringing” since the night of Aug. 4, when he won the primary election for Ozark County Sheriff by 148 votes over challenger Curtis Dobbs, 1,563 to 1,415.
“And I got 70 text messages,” Martin said, laughing. “I spent all day texting people back and answering Facebook messages.”
Martin says he’s hoping for a peaceful transition in taking over as sheriff, and current Sheriff Darrin Reed, who endorsed Dobbs in the race, has sent word that he wants the same – adding that he has no hard feelings and that Martin is welcome at the sheriff’s office any time.
Reed confirmed to the Times Monday that he had invited Martin to come to the office so Reed could “walk him through some things that would be helpful for him.” Reed said he hopes “the citizens get behind him, and I wish him the best and want him to be a great sheriff.” He added, “It has been an honor to serve the citizens of Ozark County.”
Martin’s opponent, Curtis Dobbs, also expressed support. “Now that the campaign is over, maybe we can start the healing of our community,” he said. “Our future sheriff will need the support and help from all of us. . . . Together we can keep Ozark County the best place to live.”
A campaign of hard words
These gestures come after Martin used some hard words during the campaign in ads that said electing him would mean “Draining our swamp,” by bringing in “proactive law enforcement, actual patrolling of our rural roads and meeting regularly with residents.”
Another Martin ad claimed that Dobbs had said Ozark County crime was “on the decline” while Martin cited “many stories of poor response times on crime calls, thefts that are never solved or even investigated and areas of our county that simply aren’t patrolled.” He continued the ad, saying, “You’re being snowed, folks.”
Then, during the last week before the election, Martin supporter John Russo placed full-page ads in the Times reprinting a Missouri State Highway Patrol investigation that Reed requested in connection with the May 9 shooting death of Devon Massey, whose body, when found, showed signs that it had been moved after death. In his letter to MSHP, Reed noted that Cass Martin and his brother, Greg Martin, had been involved in the search for Massey after the shooting and, according to a witness, “were the only ones who knew where the body was located.”
Reed noted in his letter that his deputy, Dobbs, who was also involved in the case, and Cass Martin were running against each other for sheriff, and he also added that Greg Martin was “ex MSHP” who had “left the patrol on bad terms.”
The letter and the investigation infuriated the Martins, who provided GPS and tracking- app records to show they had not been in the area where the body was found.
The MSHP investigation cleared the brothers of any wrongdoing.
“That letter was rough. It was hurtful. It felt like an attack on me and my brother,” Martin said Friday. “We were there to help a family. If someone calls me or my brother for help, that’s what we’ve always done.”
Besides, he said, his brother is a reserve deputy for Ozark County. “It was hard that his leader, his sheriff, would throw that in his direction,” Martin said.
Working toward a smooth transition
Those campaign difficulties make him especially appreciate Reed’s gesture welcoming him to the sheriff’s office to start work on the smooth transition both men want to happen on Jan. 1, 2021.
“I expect to be up there at midnight to take over,” Martin said.
He knows the campaign has also been hard on sheriff’s office employees. “I’ve had different employees talk to me, and I’ve said, ‘I understand you feel like you’re in the middle. It’s like watching Mom and Dad fight. But it has nothing to do with you, nothing to do with your job performance,’’’ he said. “It’s just politics. And honestly, I hate politics.”
He’s asking the currently employed deputies and other sheriff’s office employees to “apply and get their resumes to me,” he said. “I have nothing against anybody up there. I’m not booting anyone out the door. I’m going to work with these guys. I want the best for our community and the best people up there. If you don’t feel comfortable with me and with working for the betterment of the community, we need to discuss that. If you decide you can’t work here, I understand and wish you the best of luck.”
Meanwhile, he said, “I want to build up morale and make this the best department we can be.”
His brother, Greg, who also has law enforcement training and is co-owner of the Shield Solutions security training company, won’t be working in the sheriff’s department. “He can’t be involved because of nepotism,” Martin said. “But he’ll be someone I can confide in and ask his opinion.”
Martin is no stranger to the Ozark County Sheriff’s Office. He worked as a jailer and deputy for former Sheriff Raymond Pace. “Darrin (Reed) was chief deputy when I was there. When Darrin was elected sheriff, I came in as his corporal,” he said.
Martin left the sheriff’s office when he “got an offer to work a private contract for Homeland Security,” he said. “It was an opportunity to further my law enforcement career.”
He also works as an investigator for the Howell County Prosecuting Attorney in West Plains, a job he expects to continue until sometime in November or December.
Martin is also serving his second term on the Dora School Board. Last week’s primary was his first countywide election.
Goals for the sheriff’s office – and the county
His goals, he said, are to “give those guys tools for their toolbox. I’ve heard there were issues with deputies not responding to calls, or calls going unanswered or the dispatcher asking victims of crimes to come into the sheriff’s office to fill out reports,” he said.
“I want to get those guys trained to respond – whether the issue is not knowing how to respond or how to deal with tough calls. I want to get those guys up to par, where they feel active within the community,” he said.
He also wants to make sure the sheriff’s office has “a healthy working environment,” he said. “I don’t want there to be any ill feelings toward myself or my family toward anyone who works in the sheriff’s department.”
And he wants similar things for Ozark County.
“I don’t want our county to be perceived as a rough county. I want it to be great place to raise a family, a place where people feel safe,” Martin said. “We live in a beautiful part of the country. We have close-knit communities. Everyone pretty much knows each other. So our deputies have to go from being investigators to social workers to being someone who just listens to people. And they have to be thinking constantly. This is not one of those jobs where you go in and every day is the same.”
He plans to be “an active, working sheriff seven days a week,” he said. “I want people to understand that. Given the severity of a crime, we’ll head that way. If I don’t have anybody at 2 a.m., if all the deputies are busy, I’m heading that way. I’ll be a working sheriff.”
He acknowledged that some people have said that, at 34 (35 in October), “my maturity level is not enough to take on this job,” he said. “But I look at a guy like (Douglas County Sheriff) Chris Degase, who’s an outstanding sheriff. I think he just won his fourth term. People love him because of his energy and his drive to do what’s great for his community, his county. I want to be a sheriff like Chris Degase or (Mountain Grove Police Chief) Danny Bledsoe or (former Ozark County Sheriff) Steve Bartlett.”
How does the transition impact the department’s new K-9?
Some residents have asked how the transition will impact the department’s new canine, Rye, which was acquired earlier this year with funds donated by the Harlin family and Century Bank and completed training recently in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with Ozark County Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. Vesa Phelan.
Martin said Phelan had let him know he had decided to step away from law enforcement next month. The decision made Martin sad because “Vesa would make a great part of the administration,” he said. “But I understand, and I told him the door is always open to come back when he wants to.”
Phelan told the Times Monday night that even though he’s leaving at the end of the month, he hopes to continue training with Rye until Martin takes over, perhaps working with her as a reserve officer.
“She’s a great dog,” Phelan said. “I’m going to miss her.”
Meanwhile, recognizing the value of the investment, Martin said he has found someone, also in law enforcement with K-9 training, who has said he would be willing to step into the job.
Ideas for improvements
One of the things Martin said he hopes to do is improve the relationship between the sheriff’s department and the city of Gainesville, which contracts with OCSD for law enforcement. “I’d heard that the city was really teetering on pulling out of that contract, which I think is around $55,000. That pays for an officer and vehicle. I told them, ‘Please don’t get out of it yet. I want to try to work things out,’” Martin said.
Among other things, he wants to look into installing security cameras around the square that could be under 24/7 surveillance at the sheriff’s office. “That would be a help to everyone – even during Hootin an Hollarin, when we could keep an eye on the booths overnight,” he said.
Another thing he hopes to do was mentioned by Dobbs in his opposing campaign ad. Martin hopes to acquire refurbished “Toughbook” computers to install in the deputies’ vehicles. “They cost $1,000 new, but we can get them through the Highway Patrol surplus for $300 each plus $10 for the stand,” he said. “And with the radios we have, they can have GPS accessibility.”
Martin says he’s stepping into the sheriff’s job with an earnest desire to be a good leader. “I want an opportunity to prove myself,” he said. “I’m going into this with high admiration for this office, and I want to do the best I can do. I know it’s a huge responsibility, and I’m learning as I go.”