The Inside Story: Austin Rhodes suggests sheriff's wife 'obstructing justice' in new endorsement controversy

Austin Rhodes (WRDW-TV)

Austin Rhodes (WRDW-TV)

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Thursday, July 19, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- There is a new endorsement controversy in the race for Richmond County sheriff.

Sheriff Ronnie Strength says a local radio host went too far with some of his comments about his wife.

It all stems from Austin Rhodes' comments in this week's Metro Spirit.

Things just got personal.

"We are in a very precarious public safety situation here," Rhodes said. "I'm not being cute, I'm being serious."

"If Sheriff Ronnie Strength's wife is what's keeping him from endorsing a candidate, he needs to cut her loose," said Rhodes in his weekly column.

"Absolutely," cried Rhodes. "If she is the one that's pressuring him not to endorse Scott Peebles, he ought to cut her loose."

The sheriff's wife's brother, Lt. Robbie Silas, is also running for sheriff.

"Just out of curiosity," Rhodes questioned, "How bad would your brother-in-law have to be for you not to openly endorse him?"

"Has this divided the family?" we asked Patti Strength in an exclusive interview back in March. "No. That's a lot of rumor, and you get a lot of rumor going on. No it hasn't."

She spoke candidly about her husband's decision to wait to endorse a candidate until after the July 31st primary.

"I think he took the right step in sitting back on it like that," she said. "I don't think it would be fair to any one of them."

Rhodes disagrees.

"This, in my mind, constitutes someone obstructing justice," he said.

They are tough words that have definitely strained at least one relationship with the sheriff.

"Looks like I have lost a good friend ... and while I mourn that loss," said Rhodes on Facebook, "I have to consider it a casualty of a worthy war."

Rhodes says the sheriff told him their friendship is over.

"He told me that," Rhodes said. "He said we're through."

There is one condition under which the sheriff says he will endorse a candidate. He made the announcement on our weekly Wednesday radio segment on 96.3 KISS FM with Fattz and Cher.

"Say we get into a runoff," I asked the sheriff. "Are you going to step in and put your name behind a candidate?"

"Yes," he replied. "I'm going to get involved then. And of course, everyone knows my situation now. I've got Scott Peebles, my captain who has done a great job over the years. I've got Robbie Silas, who is my brother-in-law, who has done a great job at the Sheriff's Office, and then I've got the best friend in the world in Freddie Sanders who is running on the Republican ticket. I'm in a pickle right now, but I know everything will come out."

Rhodes says he is sorry for the way he phrased certain things.

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 1212 Augusta, GA 30903 Main Telephone: (803) 278-1212 Newsroom: (803) 278-3111 Fax: (803) 442-4561
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