JEFFERSON-Ashe County Sheriff Terry Buchanan is facing multiple criminal charges.
That’s according to a special grand jury session which was convened at the Ashe County Courthouse on Oct. 23, which returned six true bills of indictment.
Although grand juries have other responsibilities, according to the North Carolina School of Government, its primary one is to hear evidence “in felony cases and their allied misdemeanors that are submitted by a prosecutor in a bill of indictment and to decide whether or not there is probable cause for the charge – that is, whether to return a ‘true bill’ or ‘not a true bill,” of indictment.
Judge Greg Horn said the grand jury returned three true bills relating to three misdemeanor counts of willfully failing to discharge duties and three felony counts of obstruction of justice.
District Attorney Tom Horner also asked that Buchanan be suspended as Ashe County Sheriff and Horn adjourned the session to review Horner’s petition.
After reviewing some 30 pages of information provided by Horner, Horn agreed to temporarily suspend Buchanan’s appointment as sheriff pending a more detailed review of the situation, which Horn tentatively scheduled for Wednesday.
Buchanan was instructed to turn in county equipment, including master keys to county facilities, his county provided cell phone and county owned Ford Explorer.
It’s unclear at this time who will fulfill the duties of Ashe County Sheriff, though Chief Deputy Rick Clayton would be the likely choice until such time as the Ashe County Board of Commissioners could appoint a successor to Buchanan.
Horn set Buchanan’s bond at $25,000 unsecured and scheduled his next court appearance for Nov. 13, 2017.
How we got here
Monday’s news followed an investigation launched by the North Carolina State Bureau investigation into Ashe County Sheriff Terry Buchanan that became public knowledge in early September.
Charlotte-based TV station first reported that the investigation stemmed from “potential violations related to (Buchanan’s) handling of a public records request,” from the station.
It’s the also 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.
The start to Buchanan’s administration has been anything but quiet.
Appointed in January by the five-member Ashe County Board of Commissioners, Buchanan set about righting a county department he believed 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 was 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 also got 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.