WRAL Investigates

Indicted Granville sheriff defying suspension

Posted November 22, 2019 11:25 a.m. EST
Updated November 22, 2019 10:06 p.m. EST

— A local sheriff already facing criminal charges is accused of crossing the line again.

Granville County Sheriff Brindell Wilkins was suspended in September after he was indicted on two counts of obstruction of justice. Now, he is under fire for showing up to sheriff's office events despite his suspension.

Wilkins 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, who has denied any wrongdoing, agreed to step aside and be suspended with pay until the charges are resolved. He has served as sheriff since 2009 and was re-elected last year to a four-year term at an annual salary of $109,608.

But he hasn't walked away from the job. WRAL Investigates learned he showed up at an October staff meeting and took an active part in a discussion about a future food service contract for the county's new detention center.

Granville County Attorney Jim Wrenn, who agreed to delay any legal action to remove Wilkins from office if he agreed to the suspension, wasn't pleased to see the sheriff back in action.

"Please advise Sheriff Wilkins that it is my position that he should not be involved in any official meetings or attempt to act in any official capacity while on suspension," Wrenn wrote in an Oct. 31 letter to Wilkins' attorney, Tommy Manning. "Further, he should have no interaction with any employees of the Granville County Sheriff's Office during his suspension in any official capacity or in any manner which would lead them to believe that he currently exercises any authority over the office."

Manning didn't respond Friday to requests for comment.

In a statement to WRAL Investigates on Thursday, Wrenn said Wilkins' involvement in sheriff's office operations only confuses the employees and creates suspicion among Granville County residents.

"The public is entitled to the fair, unbiased enforcement of laws in Granville County without the fear that the indicted, suspended elected sheriff is using his position to interfere with criminal investigations into his conduct in office," he said. "The employees of the Sheriff’s Office are owed the respect of being allowed to perform their duties without the taint of the allegations against Mr. Wilkins clouding the important work they do every day or the fear that they may suffer retaliation for performing their duties in compliance with the directives of the chief deputy who is currently fulfilling the duties of the office of 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 sheriff's investigators in drug cases, and Wrenn has even hired his own outside experts to pore over the books in the sheriff's office.

WRAL Investigates has confirmed a recent shakeup in the drug unit. Sgt. Chad Coffey and Cpl. Bryan Carey have been reassigned to logistics positions in the sheriff's office.

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman, who is working with SBI investigators, asked her counterpart in Granville County, District Attorney Mike Waters, not to prosecute any cases where Coffey or Carey would be witnesses until the investigation is resolved.

The two officers "have provided information which could be considered a required disclosure" to defense attorneys, Freeman wrote in a September letter to Waters. "At this time, such disclosure could jeopardize the ongoing investigation."

Joshua Freeman, a former drug investigator for the sheriff's office, was the target of the alleged murder plot five years ago, and his attorney, Boyd Sturges, recently said Freeman's knowledge of the drug unit's operations might have played a role in his being targeted.

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.

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