Matthew Buadu was excited when he learned that his mother, Julia Dillon, had decided to enter a political race.

“That’s great,” the 7-year-old said. “How many laps do you have to run to win?”

Dillon, 40, a local defense attorney, is challenging incumbent Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Olsen for the top prosecutor’s job in Stafford County.

She is one of two political newcomers challenging established incumbents for Stafford’s top law-enforcement positions. Chad Oxley, a member of the Sheriff’s Office for 16 years before leaving in May, is challenging Sheriff David Decatur Jr. for the position Decatur has held since being elected in 2015 to replaced retired Sheriff Charles Jett. Jett supported Decatur as his successor.

Olsen and Decatur are running as Republicans, while Dillon is running as a Democrat. Oxley is an independent.

Battle for the badge

Judging by the number of signs both candidates have placed throughout the county, the race between Decatur and Oxley may be the most heated of the two.

Oxley, 47, served in the Army and moved to Stafford in 1998 with his wife Nicole. He worked in the Sheriff’s Office for 16 years, the last three and a half under Decatur’s command.

He performed various duties within the department, serving the dive team, the crisis negotiations unit and the marine patrol unit. Oxley headed the unit that focused on narcotics, gangs and vice. He retired as a master detective.

According to his campaign website, he made the decision to challenge Decatur the day after he retired. He cites a number of areas in which he sees the need for improvement, especially focusing on steps to address the county’s opioid crisis and the need to have resource officers in every school.

The county has resource officers in every high school and middle school, but only three full-time officers for the county’s 17 elementary schools.

“Chad Oxley will not leave elementary school children vulnerable anymore,” Oxley wrote on his website.

Decatur, 55, is completing his first four-year term as Stafford’s sheriff. Prior to that, he spent multiple years as the No. 2 man in the department under Jett, and 33 years in the department overall. Decatur is a Stafford native.

“I know the people in this county, and I have the executive experience needed to lead this department,” Decatur said. “I have worked my way up the ranks.”

Decatur said that, largely because of various program implemented by him and his staff, the crime rate in Stafford has decreased in recent years even as the population has grown. He cited effective prevention programs, community policing and improved communication with residents as being among the reasons.

As for the opioid crisis, Decatur said he instituted a program in which deputies regularly carry Narcan, an opioid antidote, as part of their regular patrols. He claims nearly 100 lives have been saved as a result.

Decatur said he, too, would like to have resource officers in every elementary school, but said that would carry a large price tag that the county Board of Supervisors would have to fund.

The county’s lead lawyer

Olsen, 59, has been a prosecutor in the Stafford commonwealth’s attorney’s office for 30 years. He has served two terms as the top prosecutor since being elected in 2011 following the retirement of Dan Chichester.

He said he is proud of his office’s accomplishments, especially when it comes to working with and protecting victims. He said his was the first office to have a courthouse dog, Khan, which has helped comfort many trauma victims, especially children, as they deal with the court process.

Olsen said he is a recognized expert in the prosecution of human trafficking, child abuse and domestic violence and points out that he testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in 2017 regarding the USA Gymnastics sex abuse scandal.

“We strike a good balance between being fair and appropriate, depending on the circumstances of the crime,” he said.

The Stafford office has been criticized by some for insisting on jury trials in almost every felony case. Olsen said he doesn’t understand the criticism, saying he’s amazed at how well the jury system works.

Dillon, 40, a native of Pittsburgh, moved to the area in 2012 and has lived in Stafford since 2013. She has a law office in downtown Fredericksburg and focuses primarily on criminal defense throughout the 15th Judicial Circuit.

Before coming here, she worked as a prosecutor in Fairfield County, Ohio, an experience she said she loved.

A self-described introvert, Dillon said her decision to seek public office came only a few days before the filing deadline. She was discussing some practices in the Stafford prosecutor’s office with a friend as they were returning from a training seminar when it was suggested that she run.

A short time later, she became the Democratic nominee.

Dillon said she is taking a “faith-based” approach to the campaign. If elected, Dillon said she would implement several policies that would provide justice for everyone and solutions to some of the county’s issues related to the growing addiction problems. She said she would also take steps to improve the efficiency of the judicial system, including not always demanding jury trials for cases that don’t merit it.

“I know that I would do a good job, and I’m just hoping and praying for the best,” Dillon said. “If it works out, it was God’s will. If not, it’s still His will.”

Keith Epps: 540/374-5404

kepps@freelancestar.com

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