Franklin County Sheriff
By Scott WoodsPublished January 1, 2012
Since being named the top cop in Franklin County following the death of longtime Sheriff Jim Karnes last June, Sheriff Zach Scott has overseen the first administrative transition within the office in nearly two decades. (614) spoke with Sheriff Scott about his own transition from lead homicide detective in some of the area’s most infamous cases into an administrative role, as well as how his former acting career meshes with his police work.
What is unique about law enforcement in Franklin County?
Franklin County is one of the better places to work only because you have such great (law enforcement) leadership here. You have here about 28 different law enforcement agencies. We meet regularly and work together on a lot of issues – you don’t find a lot of territorial fighting like you do in a lot of other places throughout the country. We back each other up and we try to make sure the whole law enforcement community in itself is strong for all the communities. Through Homeland Security, we’ve acquired a lot of specialized equipment, from the armored vehicles to the robots that are part of bomb trucks … at the Sheriff’s office, we have to respond to different areas of town that need assisted because of the Homeland Security grant, the federal monies that came in to us to make sure that we had control of this equipment to help all of these different agencies.
You were the lead detective in the I-270 sniper case several years ago, as well as many other high-profile cases. Now you’re an administrator. How do you transition from being “in the action” to out of it, so to speak?
It’s not that much different. Being an administrator – I would use the words administrator/leader – the best thing you can do is surround yourself with good people. There is no way in the world that I could do this all by myself in a million years. The way I like to look at it, I was very successful, or at least moderately successful, in solving a lot of different homicides and that took some intuition, and understanding of people, and reading people, and that’s what I’ve been doing most of my life.
An unidentified sheriff’s deputy walks into the conference room set aside for the interview.
Deputy: This box came for you.
Scott: What’s inside the box?
Deputy: I don’t know.
Scott: Why don’t you open it in case it blows up?
Deputy: I did.
The box turns out to contain a gift basket. Scott said gifts often arrive from family members of homicide victims who have kept in touch after Scott has solved their case. The deputy leaves the room.
So it’s about reading people, understanding people, knowing their strengths and weaknesses … the transition is not that difficult.
**Tell me about your part-time acting career. You have your own IMDb page for your portrayal of Officer Miller in Mekhi Phifer’s 1999 release Uninvited Guest, and you’ve appeared in Taco Bell and KFC commercials, as well. **
I don’t know what that means.
It’s the Internet Movie Database. You have your own actor page. Zachary Scott III.
Do I really? Wow, I didn’t know that.
How did you get started in acting? How does that translate into what you do as a cop?
It started out a long time ago. I was working undercover. It was great working undercover. It was coming out of the Miami Vice days, and you thought you were cool because you had long hair, you got to go to work in jeans. Hair long, scraggly beard and earrings – you thought you were pretty cool back in the day. You get a driver’s license that belongs to somebody else – you get to make up this character. A lot of times, it was one of those things where you go out, your sergeant would say, ‘Here’s an assignment – go make up a character to get in and work with these guys.’ [Undercover work] has changed a lot over the years – you have to remember, in the late ’80s, there were no cell phones. We didn’t have pagers … your roll call might consist of, ‘What do you have goin’ on tonight?’ And you say, ‘Well, I got a deal going on, I got an eight ball, or I got maybe … a half ounce.’ Now, if you got into a lot of money, they’ll send backup for that. But if you’re buying small amounts, you have no backup, you had no phone. You couldn’t even carry a badge, because what if they shook you down? It would be nothing to go into a house buying crack or something and they’d shake you down; they’d put you up against the wall. Today, we look at that as cowboy. Then, it was just how you did business.
Wow. It seriously does sound like Miami Vice.
It was fun to go out and be this character and see if your audience bought. Sometimes they wouldn’t feel right – they’d look at you and say, ‘I don’t know, something’s not right about you, man.’ Other times, the character would pass. So you knew if your acting worked. And through different types of restructuring in the Sheriff’s Office, I ended up getting shuffled to the detective bureau – suit and tie. No earrings, haircut, shave … I found that I really missed having that creative outlet, to go out and be that character. So I auditioned for community theater. And I was terrible. I thought, ‘Wow, it’s different when you need to know a script.’ I went to CATCO, took some acting lessons, and went back and auditioned a couple more times and started getting lead roles. It was a hobby, and it stemmed from working undercover.
So when you did Uninvited Guest, were you out in L.A. for that?
No, no, we shot that in Reynoldsburg.
Any plans to go back into acting?
I don’t have time for that … it was a hobby and it was fun. Actually, doing theater is a rush. You get up on stage, and your partner forgets their lines or you forget your lines … you better come up with something fast. It was another form of rush – not as good as buying dope, but still, it was an outlet that I guess apparently I was needing at that time.
I definitely do not have the guts for theater.
Maybe you got the guts to go (undercover) inside a house to buy drugs?