Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan is wrapping up his third and final term in office.
David Morgan was elected to head the ECSO in 2008, after defeating incumbent Ron McNesby in the Republican primary and Democrat Larry Scapecchi in the general election. There’s no term limit for sheriffs in Florida, but Morgan feels that for him, it’s time to leave after a dozen years.
“I’ve never been one to think you should stay too long in an elective office; I think that’s what causes so many of the problems that we have today,” Morgan said. “You can forget that the office doesn’t belong to you; it belongs to the people. And so, it’s time to take a break, kind of let batteries recharge, and see what life has in store for me.”
Six months after taking office in 2009, Byrd and Melanie Billings were murdered at their home in Beulah. None of the 10 special-needs children were harmed in the attack, which gained worldwide attention.
“We had at one time nine satellite trucks parked in the parking lot of the Sheriff’s Office,” Morgan said. “You start your day at about 4 a.m. and you did briefings for every news agency and then interviews at night. Then you had to stay and get updated on the case; and you had to assure the community that we were on top of it.”
Another incident drawing global scrutiny was last December, when a Royal Saudi Air Force officer shot and killed three U.S. Navy students and wounded 8 others aboard NAS Pensacola – before being shot to death by Escambia County deputies. And Morgan reminds us there have been others.
“You remember the Hartung case; Blue Moon murders, Bonnie and Clyde that came down out of Missouri, and you had the Boyette slayings,” said the Sheriff. “It’s almost like Escambia County is ‘Twilight Zone Vortex’ – anything that happens throughout the world, for some reason, they tend to end up in Florida. And so many times, they end up in Escambia County.”
Another landmark for the ECSO under Morgan’s tenure is the shift of the county jail from the sheriff’s office to the county. The outgoing sheriff said at the time that it was a “huge weight” off his shoulders.
“I probably spent 60-65% of my daily workday working and fixing jail issues,” Morgan said. “Seventy-five percent of your lawsuits come from the jail; medical issues, suicides, et cetera. And in addition to that – oh, by the way – you have to provide law enforcement for the citizens of Escambia County.”
David Morgan appears to be among the first, if not the first, sheriff who has been heavily involved is working with Escambia’s communities of color.
“We campaigned for 26 months before the 2008 election; and much of that time was spent starting to build bridges in the minority community,” said Morgan. “Through the churches and through recognized civil rights organizations.”
That included the development of a friendship between Morgan and one of Pensacola’s most prominent civil rights leaders at the time – Movement for Change founder Leroy Boyd, who died in 2010.
“We got at ground level – literally – with the citizens, discussing the issues and the things they needed, the training [ECSO] was deficient in, and what is it that we can do to respond to those needs in the minority community,” said Morgan. “We were very sincere about it.”
But he concedes that, despite the amount of progress that’s been made – and that depends on who you ask – much remains to be done.
Twelve years can be an eternity in law enforcement in areas such as technology, training, and procedures. One area Morgan embraced, reluctantly, was reaccreditation by the state.
“We have all these standards that we train to now, recognized throughout the state; there’s also a national recognition, and that includes me as the sheriff,” Morgan said. “And when we have an incident and people say, ‘Why did you handle the situation this way?’ We say, ‘This is what’s been recognized through the process of the court system, the state attorney’s offices, and our accreditation.”
New sheriff Chip Simmons is planning to issue body cameras to deputies, as he did as Pensacola police chief. But Morgan contends the data he’s seen don’t support their use by the ECSO.
“What you get is 99% of the time showing officers doing what officers are supposed to do," the sheriff said. “It’s also not so much for other states who don’t have our public records laws within Florida, it is [also] tremendously expensive to have body cameras on all your officers because of the storage issue.”
Simmons, currently the ECSO’s chief deputy, defeated another former Pensacola police chief David Alexander with 63% of the vote. There is speculation that Morgan hired Simmons in part, to have him run in hopes of succeeding him.
“Yes; yes,” Morgan confirmed. “Chief Simmons knew that I was going to leave; we talked about hiring him over here – give him four years to get his feet on the ground and see the difference between the sheriff’s office and police department, which I can tell you there are significant differences between the two. I can’t pass this office on to anyone; it’s not my office to give. It belongs, obviously, to the people.”
As the Simmons administration takes the reins at the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, what’s next for David Morgan?
“I’m at a point in my life now that I have options; I don’t have to get up and go to work if I don’t choose to, if I want to live life in reason, I should say,” said the retiring lawman. The future holds some time for reflection and get caught up on those great books I love reading and a little bit of travel, possibly.”
And Morgan is not ruling out a run for another elected office. But he says for him to do so, he’ll need the “unequivocal backing” of his family.