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New sheriff, DA and district court judge state priorities

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Maj. Paula Dance, sheriff-elect, talks about her plans for when she takes office. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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Daniel Hines Entzminger
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By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Pitt County’s newly elected sheriff, district attorney and district court judge said they are ready to start the learning process and eager to serve the public as they step into their leadership roles. 

Sheriff-Elect Paula Dance said her background should help her get off to a quick start.

“Because of my time and experience in the sheriff’s office I don’t have to learn how the sheriff’s office operates, so that was always an advantage for me,” she said. “That allows me the ability to hit the ground running on Day One and tackle the issues that not only face Pitt County but face North Carolina and other states surrounding us.”

One issue is getting body cameras for deputies, Dance said.  Other priorities include addressing school safety and the opioid crisis. Dance did not offer specifics on her plans.  

With a swearing-in date of Dec.3, Dance said she has a lot to do to get ready for the transition, including forming a senior leadership team that will help her with the day-to-day operations of the office.  

“I’m on a short turnaround,” she said. “I will be leaving to go to a sheriff’s school next week and then when I get back, I have to be going through what the structure will look like, who will be in those positions. Certainly, all of those positions will come from within.”

Dance said she hopes to prove herself during the next four years.   

“By taking the oath of office, I am going to help everyone,” she said. “ When people call, this isn’t an office that gets to determine which call we’re going to go to.  We answer each and every call.  That’s how it worked under my command as major and that’s how it will continue to work under my command. 

“All I can do is hope people who did not support me would give me the opportunity to prove myself,” Dance said. “Time will tell, and the citizens of Pitt County are my bosses and if I don’t do a good job, they can fire me in four years. 

“I don’t plan on being fired in four years and I plan on doing this job to the best of my ability and with fairness and integrity,” Dance said. 

Addressing the fact that her win broke gender and race barriers, Dance was quick to say that she ran on experience and qualifications.  

“I did not run on being an African-American or on being a female.” she said. “I ran on my experience and qualifications and am very proud to say 55 percent of this community recognized and understood that’s what I was running on.”

Still, Dance said she wants to be a role model for young girls and people of color.

“I hope to clear the path that others can follow without the stumbling blocks and detours and the things I’ve endured in my campaign,” she said.

Farris Dixon

Newly elected District Attorney Faris Dixon, who begins his role on Jan. 1, echoed Dance’s sentiment on race and said that he wants to focus on being a DA for the people of Pitt County and bring about meaningful reform and transparency to the office. 

Dixon will take a DA class which is standard for any new district attorney, and he said that is expected to happen the end of this month. In the meantime, Dixon said he is resolving current cases and handing off others that he will not get to in time. 

During his first week in office, Dixon said he wants to begin trying major cases.

“My first-day priority is to start trying … Superior (Court) cases and that’s going to depend on what the composition of staff is,” he said.  

“We will be a new office but I want to, as much as possible, get our feet on the ground, and start running,” he said. “I don’t want to hold things up too much, particularly in cases where you have individuals that are in custody.”

Adjusting staffing is one of Dixon’s priorities.

“I have an idea about staff members that I would like to be there,” Dixon said. “Some of them are not there now and it will depend on what they want to do, and also who wants to stay.”

Should any of the current senior staff members of the DAs office want to stay, they will be subject to an interview process like any other candidate, Dixon said. 

“I’m looking for certain things in certain positions and I will give people there that want to stay in my office the opportunity to talk to me and see if they fill those slots or not,” he said.

For the first time ever, the Pitt County office will have a conviction integrity unit, Dixon said. Such units work to prevent, identify and correct false convictions. Nationwide, there are about 30 such units out of 2,000 DA’s offices.

“There are questions that come up that are sort of out of the ordinary and that unit will take responsibility for those,” he said. 

Above all, Dixon said he wants the DAs office to be transparent and accountable to citizens.  He added that he plans to get out in the community and talk to citizens about issues that are affecting them. 

Daniel Hines Entzminger 

After winning a highly contested district court judges race, Daniel Hines Entzminger said he was elated by the amount of support he received and that he plans to be fair and impartial while keeping Pitt County safe. 

“I believe we need a judge who is going to focus on safety in our community and follow the laws and constitution in such a way to ensure our community is safe,” Entzminger said.

“One of the things a judge has discretion over is setting bonds in criminal cases,” he said. “I want to look at whether an individual is going to show up for court and whether an individual is a threat to the community when setting bonds. Those are the things that are important to me.”

Prior to taking the bench, Entzminger said he will be closing his law office and will begin rigorous preparation for required judicial training which is given by the administrative offices of the court. 

He also plans on continuing to teach business law at Pitt Community College.   

Contact Tyler Stocks at tstocks@reflector.com or 252-329-9566. Follow him on Twitter @TylerstocksGDR

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