JEFFERSON — Terry Buchanan resigned Monday as Ashe County sheriff and criminal charges accusing him of illegally investigating three county employees were dismissed as part of a deal between prosecutors and Buchanan’s attorneys.
Buchanan, 53, who was appointed sheriff on Jan. 17, 2017, was indicted in October on three felony counts of obstruction of justice and three misdemeanor counts of willful failure to discharge duties. Indictments allege that Buchanan used his office to launch an illegal criminal investigation into three county employees who were trying to comply with a public-records request filed by a TV station. WBTV of Charlotte had sought emails, text messages and other written communication from Buchanan between Dec. 1, 2016, and April 6, 2017.
Commissioners appointed Jim Hartley as Ashe County sheriff to fill out the rest of Buchanan’s term, which ends this year. Buchanan agreed to not run for re-election. Hartley previously served as sheriff of Ashe County.
During an April 17 meeting of the Ashe County Board of Commissioners, Buchanan said he didn’t like the public-records request.
“I just want the citizens to know that these types of things should not be allowed. They should not interfere with county business, and I think it’s a shame that we’re allowing these sorts of things and having outside reporters to come in here to do something that’s unprecedented and has not happened in the past,” Buchanan said.
Soon after the indictments came down, District Attorney Tom Horner filed a petition seeking to permanently remove Buchanan from office. Judge R. Gregory Horne of Ashe Superior Court temporarily suspended Buchanan from office pending a hearing on Horner’s petition. Buchanan’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the petition in which Buchanan denied the allegations.
Prosecutors and Buchanan’s attorneys started talking about a possible resolution to the case in the weeks leading up to Monday’s hearing on Horner’s petition, according to a joint statement from Horner and Buchanan’s attorneys. The deal struck required Buchanan to resign and to not run for re-election in 2018. Buchanan cited health concerns in saying it was in his best interest to resign, according to the joint statement.
As part of the agreement, Horner dismissed the petition for removal, and Horner’s office voluntarily dismissed the criminal charges “in exchange for a release of claims by Sheriff Buchanan.”
It wasn’t immediately clear if Buchanan had filed a lawsuit. Ashe County also entered into an agreement with Buchanan so that the county would be released from any claims Buchanan had lodged against the county. Horner approved the resignation and the agreements.
Horner’s news release said that the county employees who were subject to the illegal criminal investigation — Ann Clark, the clerk of Ashe County Board of Commissioners; Cyrus Hurley, the county’s Information Technology director; and Todd Chapman, the IT technician — were told about the agreements and the voluntary dismissal of the charges. Horner’s office said the three employees are “in complete agreement with this resolution and subsequent dismissal of the criminal indictments.”
WBTV filed a lawsuit to get the public records it had requested. According to the joint statement, a judge dismissed the lawsuit on Dec. 4, 2017. WBTV is appealing the case.
“It is the belief of all parties that this resolution is fair and appropriate for the proper administration of justice in light of the highly complex and contested nature of these matters,” the joint statement said.
Horner’s petition painted Buchanan’s office as one in constant turmoil, with employees either resigning or getting fired amid rumors that Buchanan secretly recorded conversations. Buchanan also got into arguments with county officials, including William Sands, the chairman of the Ashe County Board of Commissioners, over trivial matters, the petition said.
Pam Barlow, clerk of court for Ashe County, barred Buchanan from the clerk’s office unless he made an appointment after Buchanan criticized Barlow for hiring a former employee of the sheriff’s office. Buchanan believed the former employee had sabotaged his office.
Horner has said that Clark, Hurley and Chapman were assigned to comply with the public-records request. On June 21, Capt. Mickey Boyles called Horner about potential criminal conduct by Clark, Hurley and Chapman, according to the news release. Several days before the call, the sheriff’s office had interrogated Hurley and Chapman and had attempted to interview Clark, Horner said in the news release.
Clark, Hurley and Chapman had gotten a cellphone number and were trying to get records for that number, which belonged to Melanie Buchanan, Terry Buchanan’s wife. Indictments allege that Terry Buchanan used the same phone to conduct public business.
Horner signed a consent order approving the agreement. As part of the agreement, Ashe County commissioners approved paying Buchanan $71,404 to settle any claims Buchanan had against the county.