WRAL Investigates

Former Granville drug investigator indicted

Posted July 10, 2020 4:13 p.m. EDT
Updated July 11, 2020 5:47 p.m. EDT

— A former Granville County Sheriff’s Office sergeant faces two counts of obstruction of justice following an investigation into the department’s drug unit.

Chad Coffey is expected to surrender to authorities in the coming days, and his attorney, Hart Miles, said Coffey wants his day in court to defend himself against the charges.

"Chad is an experienced and well-respected law enforcement officer who has dedicated 22 years of his life to the protecting and serving the citizens of Granville County," Miles said in a statement.

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman, who was called in to oversee the case, said Friday that Coffey illegally used a drug informant who was on probation and then lied about it in his police report.

"Law enforcement has to follow the rules, and when they don’t, there are real consequences," Freeman said.

Granville Sheriff Brindell Wilkins with drug officers

A previous report from WRAL Investigates found drug investigators in the Granville County Sheriff’s Office didn’t keep track of how much money was paid to informants and that members may have illegally coerced people into becoming informants.

That information was included in an unsealed search warrant.

"There appears to have been some lack of direct accountability and oversight of that unit, and unfortunately, what you’ve seen is it’s come at the cost of the local prosecutor up there having to dismiss a lot of cases," she said.

The investigation into the drug unit heated up when Sheriff Brindell Wilkins was indicted last fall on two counts of obstruction of justice. He is accused of urging someone in 2014 to kill a deputy he thought was about to expose his alleged use of racially offensive language.

Wilkins later agreed to a suspension while the criminal case played out, and officials appointed a new sheriff.

Shortly after Wilkins was charged, state and federal investigators began looking into the operations of the sheriff’s office drug unit. FBI and State Bureau of Investigation agents are tracking money seized and used by investigators in drug cases.

The SBI seized the "special funds expenditure ledger" from the sheriff’s office narcotics unit last September as part of "an investigation into alleged financial malfeasance" by Wilkins and his drug officers, according to an application for a warrant to examine the ledger.

Granville County District Attorney Mike Waters told SBI investigators that his office had to dismiss more than 100 criminal cases in 2017 because the drug unit didn’t document any of its interactions with a frequent informant, including any agreements with him, how much he was paid or who was to be targeted in undercover drugs buys.

The application for the search warrant states that Waters continued to have concerns about the operations of the drug unit, noting a probation officer told him that a woman on probation had said drug officers double-crossed her.

Waters and the probation officer noted that it’s illegal to use someone on probation as an informant, unless a judge approves of the deal. There were no records of any judge being consulted about the woman, and two drug investigators, Coffey and Cpl. Bryan Carey, both denied ever using a probationer an an informant.

Both Coffey and Carey were shifted from the drug unit to logistics positions in the sheriff's office last fall. Coffey lost his job when new Sheriff Charles Noblin was appointed in January.

Granville County Attorney Jim Wrenn, who's leading his own internal investigation into the sheriff's office, said the charges against Coffey "stand as a reminder that no one is above the law."

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