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The merits of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program is the only thing the three Cattaraugus County candidates for sheriff agreed on in a Tuesday night debate held at the Jamestown Community College campus here before television cameras and about 50 spectators.

Otherwise, the three touted their own qualifications for the job, criticized their opponents' qualifications and talked about how they would run the department.

Incumbent Ernest J. Dustman, a Republican, said his philosophy in running the sheriff's office is based on "the buck stops here." He said he stands on 17 years' experience in law enforcement, his understanding of the workings of the department and his ability to make decisions.

Dustman began as a deputy. He held the appointed position of undersheriff for 11 years, stepping into the job as sheriff in June when his predecessor, Jerry Burrell, vacated the job to accept a state appointment.

Dustman said neither of his opponents, Greg Shemeld of Franklinville or David Raiport of Gowanda, has had experience running a 132-bed jail or in supervising workers.

"This is not a whim. This is my career, my life," Dustman said of his desire to continue in the office. He has also received nominations from the Conservative, Freedom and Independence parties.

Dustman countered both candidates' charges that the department has a swollen budget, saying it is a preliminary draft and will undergo further cuts before approval. He said a larger number of grants are also included in the budget proposal.

Shemeld, the Democratic candidate is a former Buffalo corporate and labor lawyer and Cattaraugus County assistant district attorney.

After working with people who are used to doing more with less, and supplementing his $23,000 annual assistant district attorney's salary with his private law practice and a teaching job, Shemeld said the sheriff's $46,000 salary would not be a pay cut.

He said he would turn the job of undersheriff into a part-time position and undertake a complete review of the Sheriff's Department by June 1.

He promised to bring changes to the department and approach the job from a prosecutor's standpoint, bringing the added bonus of his specialized legal training.

Shemeld said in the 10 courtrooms of the county's Eastern District, he handled the "bread and butter of the local courts" -- cases involving assaults, drugs, sex offenses and traffic violations.

He said problems with Sheriff's Department investigations and the department's standard of professionalism in high profile cases resulted in trial judges throwing out evidence.

He denied Dustman's claim that he, Shemeld, had never complained of problems with his cases, stating he twice asked for help and stopped asking after his calls went unanswered. He said a sheriff's officer in another case never contacted him to work out a plea deal.

Liberal candidate Raiport, pointing to Shemeld's lack of police experience, asked: "If somebody is holding a gun to your head, do you want a lawyer to read a book to figure out what to do?"

Raiport is a former sheriff's arson investigator who now owns a Gowanda answering service and is also a candidate of the Liberal, Right to Life and Justice Reform parties.

He said crime has taken a back seat in the department, with no arson arrests presented to a County Court or a grand jury since 1988 and fewer Southern Tier Drug Task Force arrests in Cattaraugus County than he sees occurring weekly in Chautauqua County.

He said problems in the department resulted in various scandals, including a lawsuit for false arrest, inmates' sexual encounters, affairs between a sheriff's academy trainer and a cadet, and an escaped inmate.

When questioned about why he was discharged form his job as a deputy in 1988, Raiport said he was demoted and ordered to drop a homicide case about which he had talked to the press. He said Burrell and Dustman denied demoting him, but the two later testified during a grievance investigation that they ordered him to drop the homicide case.

Raiport was unable to complete the detailed account of events leading up to his discharge during a two-minute time limit.

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