JEFFERSON-Ashe County’s top lawman finds himself under investigation by state officials some 230 days after taking office.
That’s according to information released this week by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and first reported by Charlotte-based TV station WBTV.
In an email sent Tuesday evening NCSBI Public Information Officer Patty McQuillan confirmed the agency is taking a closer look at the actions of Ashe County Sheriff Terry Buchanan.
It’s the latest in a tumultuous chain of events since Buchanan was appointed to his current post following a split 3-2 decision by the Ashe County Board of Commissioners in January.
McQuillan did not disclose the nature of the SBI’s investigation – and neither Buchanan nor his attorney immediately responded to Post messages seeking comment – but WBTV reported the investigation stems from “potential violations related to his handling of a public records request,” from the TV station.
Ashe County Commissioner William Sands said Tuesday he’d been contacted by SBI agents regarding the case.
”I can tell you that Thursday morning I was contacted by the SBI requesting an interview,” Sands said. “I was at home with an ankle injury. An Agent came to my home.
As you know with an ongoing investigation, I cannot disclose anything relating to the interview.”
Since the news of the investigation went public on Sept. 5, Sands said he’d been contacted by several people about the news.
“One lady asked, ‘What in the Sam Hill is going on in our county? We have never heard anything like this,” Sands wrote.
The start to Buchanan’s administration has been anything but quiet.
Appointed in January by the five-member Ashe County Board of Commissioners, Buchanan has set about righting a county department he believes was left in disarray by the previous administration, helmed by former Sheriff James Williams and Chief Deputy Bucky Absher.
In past interviews, Buchanan has said he’s focused his efforts on revamping the department’s training standards, mapping out common sense mutual aid agreements with surrounding law enforcement agencies like the West Jefferson Police Department and debuting new transparency initiatives like his monthly “Coffee With A Cop,” sit downs and a brand new online community crime map.
His office also made short work of the manhunt for shooting suspect Lee Walker Fierro earlier this year and has made multiple other high profile arrests.
But he’s also come under scrutiny for the way in which he’s handled his transition as the county’s top lawman, from both public officials and multiple former ACSO employees.
In April, Buchanan took issue with a public records request from WBTV and said, “We don’t have time for this.” He accused the previous administration of masterminding a “political fishing expedition.”
He’s also off to a contentious start in working with Ashe Schools Superintendent Phyllis Yates, who said Buchanan didn’t follow proper protocol in approaching the school system multiple times about the re-implementation of the DARE education program and another initiative to send home congratulatory letters to Honor Roll students, which is an expense Yates complained would’ve been footed by the school system.
There’s also been the exodus of many long-time jailers and deputies, in addition to the recent high profile arrest of a former jailer for multiple counts of “felony sexual activity.”
Buchanan also launched an investigation in June – which was later handed over to the SBI, according to Ashe County Manager Sam Yearick – into the actions of county staff who attempted to fulfill WBTV’s records request.
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058.