WRAL Investigates

Convicted felons run for sheriff positions across the state

Posted April 28, 2010
Updated April 29, 2010

— For 10 years, Gerald Hege was arguably one of the most well-known sheriffs in the country.

From his pink jail cells to prison work crews dressed in old fashioned black and white stripes, the sheriff in Davidson County was a regular on national television shows. A hot sauce was even named after him.

Then the man known for driving a black police car adorned with spider images got caught in a web himself.

In 2004, Hege pleaded guilty to two felony counts of obstruction of justice. The plea deal kept him out of jail, but cost him his job.

WRAL Investigates Felons run for sheriff

Six years later, Hege is running for sheriff again, but there is a catch: State law prohibits a convicted felon, including Hege, from carrying a weapon.

He is not the only candidate with a criminal past running for the office of sheriff across the state:

  • In Avery County, candidate Robert Nub Taylor was convicted of obstruction of justice as a clerk of court.
  • McDowell County’s Mark Stewart and Cleveland County candidate David Morrow each have felony drug convictions.
  • Wilkes County candidate Willie Tharpe has a felony conviction for receiving stolen goods.
  • Former Washington County Sheriff Stanley James was convicted of embezzling, but is running this year in an effort to reclaim the position.
  • Ryan White, a candidate for sheriff in Dare County, has pending felony drug charges in two counties.

“The gun issue is not our primary motivating factor. It’s an ethics issue,” said Eddie Caldwell, spokesman for the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association.

The NCSA is pushing for a bill in the state legislature to keep felons from becoming sheriff.

Salvation’s Way is also campaigning against the felon candidates.

“The constitutional qualifications are not our main focus," said Melisia Prout, head of the group. "It’s the statutory qualifications you cannot get around. The fact that a convicted felon cannot be in care or control of a firearm, that statue does not say unless elected sheriff."

Hege said he doesn’t need to carry a gun to hold the office.

“There’s no general statute that I’m aware of that requires a sheriff to carry a firearm. The president of the United States don’t carry one. The governor don’t carry one, so I don’t think one sheriff not carrying one is going to upset anybody," he said. 

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Hege’s opponents argue that the sheriff is actually in charge of the guns carried by more than 140 Davidson County deputies.

Hege says it's a stretch to say he can't even be around firearms.

“I don’t know of any statute that says a felon cannot be around a firearm. I mean, I go to Walmart all the time,” Hege said. “Walmart has guns. I go to Walmart. Convicted felons go there everyday.”

The Davidson County Board of Elections will hold a full hearing after the May primary to rule on Hege's eligibility.

“Regulations in North Carolina prohibit a convicted felon from becoming a deputy sheriff or any other law enforcement officer in our state,” Caldwell said. “The sheriffs believe that same standard that applies to the deputies ought to also apply to the office of sheriff.”

The state Senate will consider a bill in the upcoming session of the General Assembly to ban felons from running for sheriff. If the bill passes, the issue would appear on voter ballots in November.

72 Comments

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  • mustangyts Apr 29, 7:10 p.m.

    In NC the only requirement to run for sheriff is to live within the county, the age 21, and be a US citizen. These elections are not about who would make the best Sheriff, its a popularity contest. Sheriffs should be hired by the county commissioners just as police chiefs are hired by city councils. When these sheriffs run amuck they are much harder to remove from office.

  • Proud2BUS Citizen Apr 29, 6:46 p.m.

    What kind of message are we sending if we elect known criminals to public office? And in this case if he is on a call and needs a weapon he won't have one and could be putting lives at jeopardy.

  • RoyzDaMan Apr 29, 5:45 p.m.

    Sentramom....

    I know exactly what he did! I lived there till I was 22. He did do a lot of good things, like I said earlier. He also is a criminal! Anyone who was arrested for embezzlement(which is what he was originally arrested for, before he worked out a deal on a lesser charge) shouldn't be allowed to work in law enforcement, or any elected position. Just like a teacher shouldn't get to keep his/her job if they have been convicted of a felony.

  • orangeyougladtoseeme Apr 29, 5:11 p.m.

    Responding to an earlier post about this proposed bill.
    It was introduced in the Senate during the previous session.
    Any bill that passed on chamber last year is eligible for consideration this year. While this bill didn't get out of the Senate, it is a budget issue since a cost will be incurred to put it on the ballot.

  • stupiditydeservesnosympathy Apr 29, 3:45 p.m.

    Clearly most people in the Triangle do not know of the wonderful things Hege did as sheriff. He should be re-elected IMHO. I mean, if Marion Barry who was a crackhead can be re-elected, why not Hege?

  • wp Apr 29, 2:40 p.m.

    What a joke...

  • crustyhalo Apr 29, 2:38 p.m.

    Killian, if you are from the south,then you my friend are sterotyping your own folk...yes I said folk.. I am from the south, educated and a professional,however I do say hey and yall,mam and sir...and if you dont like it...you can kiss my grits. I am very proud of my southern brothers and sisters,we are proud,hardworking individuals,we never forget who you are and where you come from. You can use all the BIG words from a dictionary you would like.... still does not make you smart Killian as I said before you sound very ignorant to me.

  • Raleigh Boys Apr 29, 2:27 p.m.

    I am a convicted felon, but have a college degree, and have worked over 13 years in professional setting. When I see all you folks saying negative things about what a felon can or cannot do, it really makes me want to advocate for ex offenders. With that said, I am going to send him a check. I cannot vote for him since I live in another county, but will see if I can help him into office. Ex offenders should not be punished after they paid their dues to society. Should he hold this office? IMO yes, but only if the voters vote him in.

  • Killian Apr 29, 1:49 p.m.

    Here you go, crustyhalo. Maybe this news article is written more to your intellectual level and style?

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/pickup-truck-stoled,17337/

  • Tarheelfan13 Apr 29, 1:23 p.m.

    Let me preface by saying that the federal government was lenient to Hedge. With that stated the only thing that matters is the rule of law and as long as Hedge meets the state Constitution and state statutes requirements for the Office of Sheriff then I don't see how legally he could be compelled not to run for office. In a bizarro type way by default one could make an argument that elected office could by default and the nature of the office restore his right to carry a firearm for direct law enforcement purposes. I am not saying that is the case but it would make for an interesting legal argument since he would be acting in the position of an official officeholder discharging his duties as Sheriff.

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