Oxford, NC – The Granville County sheriff was indicted Monday on two counts of felony obstruction of justice for allegedly encouraging the murder of one of his former deputies after he found out the deputy planned to release a recording of him making "racially offensive” comments.
Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said that Granville County Sheriff Brindell Wilkins failed to arrest the unnamed person who was threatening to kill former Deputy Joshua Freeman or report the threat on the deputy’s life, The Washington Post reported.
The indictment said that Sheriff Wilkins also allegedly “counseled the individual how to commit the murder in a manner as to avoid identification," according to The News & Observer.
Court records showed that on a 2014 recording of a conversation between the sheriff and a “well-known person,” Sheriff Wilkins said he though Deputy Freeman would soon release the recording to authorities.
The sheriff told the person he was speaking to in the recording to “take care of it” and said “the only way you gonna stop him is kill him” before he told the man how to get away with the crime, The News & Observer reported.
“You ain’t got the weapon, you ain’t got nothing to go on,” Sheriff Wilkins said in the recording, according to court records. “The only way we find out these murder things is people talk. You can’t tell nobody, not a thing.”
Court records showed that during that conversation, the sheriff learned the specific time and location of the planned murder attempt but did nothing to warn the deputy who was the target, The News & Observer reported.
“The defendant failed to properly execute his duties because of his personal animosity towards Joshua Freeman, who defendant was told had expressed an intention to publicly disclose a purported audio recording of the defendant using racially offensive language,” the indictment read.
The district attorney said that Sheriff Wilkins was indicted and arrested after a 10-month-long investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), The Washington Post reported.
Authorities have been aware of the recorded phone conversation since 2014; however, the Wake County prosecutor only took over the case after Granville County District Attorney Mike Waters disclosed a conflict of interest in 2018.
Waters said in a letter to Lorrin Freeman that he had turned over the recording to the FBI in August of 2014 but nothing ever happened, The Washington Post reported.
So he met with the SBI in January of 2017 and gave them the recording.
Still nothing was done, so in October of 2018, Waters gave the recording to yet another SBI agent and also wrote a letter to the Wake County District Attorney’s Office, advising of his conflict of interest and asking Lorrin Freeman to determine whether to open an investigation, The Washington Post reported.
Lorrin Freeman and Joshua Freeman are not related.
“I have reviewed this recording,” Lorrin Freeman wrote to SBI agents. “It contains a conversation between two individuals, one of whom appears to be the Granville County Sheriff, about a former deputy sheriff and culminates in a discussion about committing a homicide.”
As a result of the investigation into the recording, SBI also began investigating the accounting and operations of the Granville County Sheriff’s Office’s drug interdiction unit with the help of federal agents, The News & Observer reported.
Joshua Freeman, the former deputy who was the target in the recordings, was K9 narcotics interdiction officer in the drug interdiction unit, The Washington Post reported.
“Part of this investigation has centered on why this sort of conversation would have occurred, what the underlying motivation would have been,” Lorrin Freeman said. “Additional information has come to light regarding operations and accounting practices of the Granville County narcotics interdiction team.”
Despite his arrest and the charges against him, Sheriff Wilkins remains in office.
Granville County Attorney Jim Wrenn told The News & Observer that he found the charges against the sheriff “unsettling” but said he hasn’t actually heard the recording yet.
“I am mindful of the need to preserve the public confidence ... but I am also mindful there is an ongoing criminal investigation,” Wrenn said. “Like all parties charged, Sheriff Wilkins is entitled to a presumption of innocence.”
The Granville County commissioners met to discuss the sheriff’s indictment but they have no authority over his elected position, The News & Observer reported.
A state statute would allow the county attorney to seek Sheriff Wilkins’ removal through the courts but Wrenn said he didn’t have enough information yet to make a decision to do that.
Sheriff Wilkins appeared before the Granville County magistrate on Monday, The Washington Post reported.
He was released on a $20,000 bond and returned to the sheriff’s department, The News & Observer reported.
“Technically,” Lorrin Freeman said, “he can continue to serve if he chooses to until convicted.”