Clayton County sheriff’s Deputy John Strutko gives a pedestrian a high five while he directs traffic Wednesday during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. Clayton deputies have garnered international attention for dancing while directing traffic. (AP Photo/The Star, Ben Earp)
JONESBORO — President Barack Obama is supposed to be in the spotlight at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, but a group of dancing Clayton County sheriff’s deputies stole the show early on.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Samuel Smith has been interviewed this week by news outlets from across the country — and from across Europe — because of his ability to get down. His dance moves have even led to a meeting with the Mexican ambassador, he says.
Smith and other Clayton County deputies have become famous for dancing in the streets of Charlotte while directing traffic near the convention.
“Nobody ever could have imagined this happening,” said Smith.
What started out as a way to break up the monotony of directing traffic has brought a spotlight on the Clayton County sheriff’s office. Smith and other Clayton County deputies have become YouTube celebrities at the convention because of their dance moves.
That has, in turn, led to interviews with national and international news outlets gathered in Charlotte for the convention.
“We were on the news in Sweden today,” said Smith. “I’ve been interviewed by a newspaper in London and another one in Bulgaria about our dancing. It’s been crazy.”
Seven deputies went up to Charlotte to direct traffic at the convention this week, but Smith and Deputies Michael Johnson, William Cooley and John Strutko are the group dubbed the “Dancing Deputies” by the Associated Press.
“The people love it,” said Smith. “We’ve had a lot of people come up to us with confused looks on their faces because they don’t know where they are going, and they end up walking away with smiles on their faces.”
Sheriff’s office spokesman, Capt. Brian Crisp, said the deputies sent to Charlotte are members of the office’s Special Reaction Team, which he explained is essentially a SWAT team. They were sent to Charlotte after the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department put out a blanket call to other law enforcement agencies for assistance during the convention.
“Charlotte-Mecklenburg is providing everything for them up there,” Crisp said. “They are covering accommodations and food expenses while our guys are up there. They’ve got them staying in a dorm, with a common TV room and they’re sleeping on cots.”
Smith said Charlotte police and the Democratic National Committee will reimburse the county for the salaries of the deputies sent to Charlotte for the convention.
Smith said the deputies arrived in Charlotte Saturday and didn’t find out they would be directing traffic until the “last minute.” He said they started out just directing traffic without any dancing on Sunday, but it turned into something more on Monday.
“One of them started getting out there and dancing, and then another went out and did it, and another and another,” said Smith. “So I watched them doing this and then I walked out there and started doing it. At that point, they said, ‘Well, if he’s doing it then it must be OK for us to keep doing,’ and it’s just built from there.”
Some of the deputies rock the Michael Jackson “Thriller” moves, said Smith, while others channeled the ghost of Elvis. YouTube videos show deputies getting even more elaborate by twirling small flags, saluting law enforcement vehicles which pass by and acting like Yosemite Sam.
“I do a combination of all of them,” he said. “They say I’m ‘The Thief’ because I steal all of their moves.”
Smith said they occasionally turn into mimes and mimic people walking past them in the crosswalks.
News reports out of Charlotte tout the popularity of the deputies among people in town for the convention. Videos also show crowds gathering to watch them dance. News photographs show people high-fiving the officers and occasionally dancing with them.
“It’s awesome,” High Point University student Meka Vallier told the Charlotte Observer on Wednesday. “You never see cops let loose. They’re always so serious all the time, so it’s nice to see them shake their butts like this.”
The publicity generated by the dancing deputies is a bright spot for an office stung by a string of troubles.
Sheriff Kem Kimbrough has been criticized for exceeding his overtime budget. He has also been accused of misconduct. Deputy Rick Daly was shot and killed during a traffic stop a little over a year ago. Kimbrough was then defeated by embattled former Sheriff Victor Hill — who is facing a 37-count indictment — last month.
Respondents on Clayton News Daily’s Facebook page said the fact the office has faced so many troubles lately makes the “Dancing Deputies” story a nice bright spot.
“This is too cute, I love it,” said Atlanta resident Tamu Ford. “Their office needs a little positive press right about now.”
Sue Casey added: “I have loved watching the video every time it has been aired ... Really proud that they have some sassy moves, spunk [and a] sense of humor!!!!
Not everyone was happy to hear the news about the deputies going to Charlotte, however. Rex resident Paige Turner questioned why deputies were sent to Charlotte in light of a law enforcement shortage.
The Clayton County Board of Commissioners signed off on giving Kimbrough 60 new employees after he continually argued he didn’t have enough employees to fully staff the county jail — which neccesitated his office continually going over budget about overtime. Even after he got 60 new employees, Kimbruogh still said he didn’t have enough deputies to fully staff the jail.
“Don’t they have enough to do here in CC?” Turner said. “Our force is short [of] cops as it is !!!”