Local News

Bladen commissioners powerless to remove interim sheriff

Posted July 9, 2010

— The Bladen County Board of Commissioners met Friday night to discuss options for removing the man they appointed last week as interim sheriff.

Following the recent retirement of Sheriff Stephen Bunn, the commissioners turned to Earl Storms, who served as sheriff from 1978 to 1994, to serve until a new sheriff is elected in November.

Commissioners said they hoped Storms would bring the Bladen County Sheriff's Department together after a divisive Democratic primary last month in which Capt. Prentis Benston defeated Lt. Eric Bryan.

"He assured me, if we appointed him, he'd go in and try to resolve all the issues, and everything would be smooth," Billy Ray Pait, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, said Friday.

Instead, immediately after Storms was sworn in on Tuesday, he fired Bryan and four deputies who supported his candidacy, saying none of the five had filled out applications before the swearing-in ceremony.

Pait said Storms had told commissioners he wasn't endorsing anyone in the election when he backed Benston all along. He said no deputies filled out an application ahead of time, but some were allowed to do so after Storms was in office.

Bladen County Sheriff's Office patrol car Bladen commissioners at odds with appointee

"I was trying to bring unity to our community and to our county and the sheriff's department, and it's been in reverse," Pait said. "I was devastated by it."

Neither Storms nor Benston, whom Storms promoted to chief deputy, could be reached for comment Friday.

Voters are fuming, Pait said, but the commissioners' hands are tied.

The county attorney has said that, under state law, the board has the authority to fire Storms.

"We can only ask him to resign, but we can't make him resign. We can't do anything with him," he said. "It doesn’t make any sense to have a law that you can appoint someone to a position, but then when he’s not doing something he’s supposed to be doing or lying to the people of your county, you can’t let him go.”

The board voted 4-1 on Friday night in favor of asking Storms to resign, but were unable to take action because a unanimous vote was needed.

Benston faces Republican Billy Ward, a former Highway Patrol trooper, in the November general election.


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  • Boogalooboy Jul 9, 2010

    Bryan should get the ACLUI (sorry forget the letters) to support him when bringing the sheriff and county govt to court for firing him without cause. I would think "serving at the pleasure of the sheriff" has seen its last days.
    I was told, yrs ago, a Virginia deputy took the higher ups to court, won a chunk of money and had the policy reversed.

  • blackdog Jul 9, 2010

    ...Who controls the money ? Whoever sets the budget should remove any pay and benefits for the sherriff position immediately. ...if he can't be fired.

  • Dragons_lady Jul 9, 2010

    okay..I stand corrected..

  • trust Jul 9, 2010

    This is political and corrupt. Go to www.bladenjournal.com to get details.

  • firejocky62 Jul 9, 2010

    I have worked closely with this election and admit that I support Prentis Benston. First of all the ignorance to this situation and the jump to conclusions astounds me. Here are some things to think about! These people were not fired but rather not sworn in because each sheriff that takes over a position has to go through the hiring process each time the office changes hands. Regarding the 5; one retired and the other four chose not to submit applications. The former candidate had quit the day after the election but apparently was convinced to return under the belief that another certain person would be getting the nod for sheriff but things just did not work out that way. Finally; the only reason that the commission chairman called for this emergency meeting is in my opinion because his nephew was not sworn in. If you have an infection cut it out and that is exactly what Storms did and now the atmosphere is calm again. For those who think that this is political remember this,

  • Centurian Jul 9, 2010

    Technically, the deputies were NOT fired. When a new Sheriff is sworn in, the Sheriff (whether elected or appointed) must APPOINT / RE-APPOINT all deputies and have them RE-SWORN as HIS deputies. This is typically the case for new Sheriffs to NOT invite some depuites to be RE-SWORN which effectively ends their employment with the Sheriff's Office.

    So, they were not fired... rather they were not reappointed. SHERIFF'S ARE POLITICIANS and that's how it works in NC, like it or not.

  • Dragons_lady Jul 9, 2010

    I am also originally from Bladen County...and I know two of the people that were fired...not a good situation at all!

  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT Jul 9, 2010

    texasjump, you are 100% correct. Until the 'people' have elected you, you have not been given the authority to make drastic changes. I know a family member who was appointed Sheriff in another state. He was to replace a Sheriff that was being prosecuted for dirty dealings in the department. This family member was status quo during his interim term. As soon as he won a landslide election, he fired a number of supporters of the dirty Ex-Sheriff and performed an inventory of EVERYTHING in the Sheriff's Dept. He told them they had 30 days to return ANYTHING that belonged to the Sheriff's Dept., no questions asked. After 30 days, they would prosecute ANYONE that didn't comply. He cleaned house. But NOT until AFTER he was elected by the 'people'.

  • FireFaerie88 aka snugglebunny Jul 9, 2010

    I'm originally from Bladen County. Moved up this way years ago. They "will" get him out of office .... one way or the other. He is real lucky that he hasn't "dissapeared" yet. I'm still waiting to see what happens. Storms will pay for that mistake.

  • texasjump Jul 9, 2010

    "However, I do know in NC politics it is very normal for the winner to fire the loser if they both work in the same Department and run against each other."

    The Trouble with that statement as it relates to this situation is that (INTERIM)Sheriff Earl Storms was appointed to that position. He never ran against the person(s) he fired. He was not even elected, no one has won the sheriff's election as it hasn't even happened yet. Lt. Eric Bryan did lose in the primary runoff which (INTERIM)Sheriff Earl Storms did not participate.

    The County Commissioners seemed to think that Mr. Storms was not allied with either side of the coming election. Instead it seems as if they got blindsided by furhter policital manuvering on the part of the winner of the Democratic primary. It looks like someone thinks they have already won the election and are making changes in the department even before taking office.