Gaston County Sheriff announces retirement, leaves Democratic Party

Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 4:01 PM EDT
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GASTON COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - Alan Cloninger will not be seeking reelection as sheriff of Gaston County. He has served as sheriff for the past 16 years.

Cloninger made the announcement Wednesday in an exclusive interview with WBTV.

“This has been one of the hardest decisions of my life. I’ve devoted my life serving all the citizens of Gaston County, but the time has come that I must put my family first,” said Cloninger. “Today I am announcing that I am retiring at the end of this term as your sheriff. I will serve out the remainder of my term with honor, concern and integrity as I always have.”

Cloninger has been a Democratic leader in a very Republican county. He explained Wednesday that he no longer wishes to be affiliated with the Democratic Party.

“The present Democratic Party has left me. There is no home for a conservative Democrat in today’s Democratic Party. Therefore, today I will be changing my party affiliation from Democrat to unaffiliated voter.”

The sheriff also explained why he is choosing to detach himself from the party.

“Some of the new Democrats in Washington attack and degrade all law enforcement officers who risk their lives every day to protect the people,” said Cloninger.

Additionally, the sheriff said he had heard that local party officials have planned to find another Democrat to challenge him in the upcoming primary elections. Melissa Wagner, Gaston County Democratic Party Chair, refuted those claims.

“We do not have a committee currently recruiting new candidates as we are focused on the 2021 municipality elections,” said Russell via email.

The local party chair also commented on Cloninger’s plans to retire.

“Upon hearing of his plans to retire, the Gaston County Democratic Party would like to thank Sheriff Alan Cloninger for his years of service to the Gaston County Sheriff’s Department. We, the Gaston County Democratic Party, wish Sheriff Cloninger nothing but the best and hope to see him at our next monthly meeting as he is always invited,” said Russell.

Cloninger said he will now be able to vote for candidates from both the Republican and Democratic parties.

“I’m switching to independent to make a statement that the Democrats have left me,” said Cloninger. “I’m making it where I can support people who are going to do good from both parties.”

Under Cloninger’s leadership, educational programs were brought to the Gaston County Jail, a clinical counselor is now on staff for residents of the jail, and defibrillators have been installed in patrol cars. Cloninger said he has also fought for his deputies to receive better pay.

The sheriff’s tenure has not been without bumps in the road. In 2016 he was injured in a serious car crash. He was criticized for his 287g program that allowed law enforcement to check the immigration status of people charged for crimes, and in 2018, one of his deputies , Kate Self, was killed in an unexpected tragedy that rocked the Gaston County community.

“What people didn’t see is what it did to this office. She was well-liked. She was a part of this family and this family suffered greatly,” said Cloninger.

In just the last year, Cloninger and his deputies have had to respond to protests at the confederate monument in front of the county courthouse as well as protests on the streets of Gastonia.

“The toughest thing is trying to do what’s right and what’s right for everybody,” explained the sheriff.

He said that while he will officially be retiring as sheriff, he will still work to serve the people of Gaston County.

“I’m retiring from this office, but I’m not retiring. I’ll be doing something in the community,” said Cloninger.

The outgoing sheriff said he may teach or he may return to practicing law, but he has not made any final decisions.

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