Granville County sheriff accused of urging man to kill deputy
Posted September 16, 2019 10:24 p.m. EDT
Updated September 17, 2019 11:02 p.m. EDT
Oxford, N.C. — Granville County Sheriff Brindell Wilkins is accused of urging someone to kill a deputy he thought was about to expose his alleged use of racially offensive language.
Wilkins was indicted Monday on two counts of obstruction of justice, and the grand jury indictment states that he told someone to kill former Deputy Joshua Freeman, telling the person to "take care of it" and "the only way you gonna stop him is kill him." The indictment also alleges that the sheriff then withheld knowledge of a threat against Freeman.
Freeman worked for the Granville County Sheriff's Office from November 2011 until August 2014, days before the actions outlined in the indictment allegedly occurred. At the time, he was let go because "his services are no longer needed," Wilkins wrote in his termination letter.
"No one is above the law. It is always painful when someone who has the public trust faces these types of allegations for voters who put them in that place," Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman, no relation to Joshua Freeman, said Tuesday.
Wilkins has been sheriff since 2009 and was re-elected to a four-year term in 2018. By law, he can remain sheriff while his case plays out.
He couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.
The charges date to August 2014, when, according to the indictment, Wilkins ignored a "a credible threat made by an individual known to the Sheriff to imminently kill Joshua Freeman at a certain place and time in Granville County."
Wilkins is accused of failing to warn Joshua Freeman or otherwise protect him from the threat. The indictment says that the person threatening Freeman even showed Wilkins the gun he planned to use and that Wilkins failed to take it away.
According to the indictment, Wilkins also "counseled the individual how to commit the murder," telling him not to talk and assuring him that Wilkins would not give him away to any investigation that followed.
Wilkins has been under investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation and the FBI for months, Lorrin Freeman said. She said she pursued the obstruction charges because she could it more easily prove them than conspiracy or solicitation to commit murder.
"It's important in these cases that you walk them down the middle, that you don't overcharge, that you be fair," she said Tuesday, noting that the case is five years old and no actual attempt was made on Joshua Freeman's life.
"Any time you have someone who is sworn to uphold the public trust, to protect their community, to investigate and report crimes, allegedly engage in this type of conduct, it is something that needs to be brought to justice. and so we will continue to follow the evidence in this case," she said.
Mike Waters, the district attorney in Granville County, asked Lorrin Freeman last November to handle the case, saying he could become a witness in any trial.
Waters wrote in a Nov. 14 letter that Joshua Freeman handed him a tape recording in 2014, when he was in private practice, and that he later turned the tape over to the FBI. He also met with SBI agents about the recording in January 2017, he said.
"Quite frankly, it did not get to the top of their investigative list," Lorrin Freeman said to explain why charges weren't filed in the case for more than five years.
The Granville County Sheriff's Office charged Joshua Freeman with driving while impaired driving and drug crimes in 2016 and 2017, but Waters later dismissed the charges, saying there were "issues that would prevent a successful prosecution" in both instances.
"They got drugs out of the evidence room that were there for the express purpose of training K-9s and instead put them into circulation to be delivered to Josh Freeman," Waters said, adding that a deputy in the DWI case wasn't credible.
"They were done in retaliation for problems that the sheriff had with my client. It’s our position that they were trumped-up charges," said Boyd Sturges, Joshua Freeman's attorney.
"Frankly, when somebody tells you this, your immediate reaction is this is it’s a work of fiction, or it’s only something you see in the movies," Sturges said. "But this is actually , my client contends, a real thing. ... No one would want to be falsely charged and facing felonies of that nature. That is a nightmare for anybody."
The Granville County Board of Commissioners held an emergency meeting Tuesday morning on the indictment, but County Attorney Jim Wrenn noted that the board has no authority to remove Wilkins, an independently elected official, from office. State statutes do provide a legal process where a sheriff can be removed if "engaged in willful misconduct, willful refusal to perform the duties of his office or corruption," he said.
"As this situation unfolds, we must remember that Sheriff Wilkins is entitled to due process and that the public is entitled to effective, unbiased law enforcement," Wrenn said at an afternoon news conference.
A second investigation into allegations concerning the Granville County Sheriff’s Office’s accounting practices and controlled substance interdiction efforts is ongoing, Lorrin Freeman said.
Investigators also are taking another look at a 2016 murder-suicide involving Granville County Deputy Jeremy Pearce, who killed his estranged wife and himself. Pearce served in the sheriff's office's drug unit, and drugs and thousands of dollars were found at the scene.
"It is certainly something that has been on our radar, that we have revisited," Lorrin Freeman said.
Wilkins appeared before a magistrate Monday and was released on $20,000 unsecured bond. His first court date will be Oct. 9 at 9:30 a.m. in Granville County.