LUMBERTON — Charges have been dropped against Ronnie Patterson, the chief of police in Red Springs, and David Ashburn, the town’s manager, that were related to Patterson’s alleged attempt to conceal personnel documents that could have damaged his attempt to become sheriff in 2018.
The Robesonian has been provided court documents from prosecutor Charles A. Spahos, who said the state declined to prosecute because it determined there was no “criminal intent” on behalf of either Patterson or Ashburn. It would be better if the town implemented a “policy of retention” in compliance with state law, he said.
Matt Scott, the district attorney for Robeson County, said Spahos is a prosecutor with the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys who handled the case. Scott said after he was elected district attorney in November and took office, he made the decision to refer the matter to the Conference of District Attorneys because of “public perception” that a local prosecution could not be trusted and his belief the investigation at the state level could be “independent.”
“I thank the good Lord for his support and direction in this,” Ashburn said. “My wife and I are very happy that this is behind us and we can move forward. I thank all those who kept us in their prayers.”
Patterson could not be reached for comment.
Patterson was charged in September with 10 counts of unlawful removal of public records and 10 counts of conspiracy to commit removal of public records. Ashburn was charged with 10 counts of removal of public records, 10 counts of unlawful disposal of public records and 10 counts of conspiracy to commit removal of public records. All the charges were misdemeanors.
The Law Firm of W. James Payne, which represented Patterson, provided a statement that reads, “Chief Ronnie Patterson is an honorable man and a tremendous law enforcement officer. All who know him are better for it. The town of Red Springs is very fortunate to have Chief Patterson protecting and serving the good people depending upon law enforcement. Chief Patterson and his family are grateful for all who supported him in this trying time, and to the state for ultimately reaching the correct conclusion to dismiss these charges. Chief Patterson is looking forward to the restoration of his good name and continuing his service for the people and town of Red Springs.”
Patterson finished second to Sheriff Burnis Wilkins in the May Democratic primary, receiving about 35% of the vote to 42% for Wilkins. There was no Republican candidate for sheriff, so Wilkins took office in December.
Patterson was generally considered to be the front-runner, but his campaign suffered when The Robesonian received information that he had committed perjury when he was being investigated on an allegation of sexual harassment as a police captain for Red Springs in 2008 and published a story. He left the Red Springs department soon after the investigation began and was rehired as police chief in 2010.
Erich Hackney, a former investigator with the District Attorney’s Office, said the investigation was launched after John McNeill, former mayor of Red Springs, publicly called for it. McNeill was one of Patterson’s campaign managers during his bid for sheriff.
Hackney said at the time that the documents were removed from Town Hall between Jan. 1, 2018, and Feb. 28, 2018, by both Ashburn and Patterson.
Red Springs placed Patterson and Ashburn on administrative leave after the charges were filed, but they returned to work soon. Their pay was never disrupted.
The documents The Robesonian received included, among other things:
— The sexual harassment investigative file on Patterson and Corena Locklear, a former town employee, which includes case settlement information.
— Documentation relative to the polygraph examination administered to Patterson indicating “clear, consistent and remarkable physiological criteria indicative of deception” in the sexual harassment investigation.
— Documentation relating to two felonies of accessory before the fact and aiding and abetting, which were committed by Patterson relative to a fraudulent worker’s compensation claim filed on behalf of Luke Humphrey, a former town employee.
— Documentation relative to the polygraph examination administered to Patterson indicating “clear, consistent and remarkable physiological criteria indicative of deception” in the fraudulent worker’s compensation claim filed on behalf of Humphrey.
— Documentation relating to obstruction of justice committed by Patterson relating to an investigation involving the United States Department of Justice; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
— Documentation relative to the polygraph examination administered to Patterson during which he indicated “deception” in a case of obstruction of justice relating to an investigation involving the United States Department of Justice; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
— Federal litigation documents and court records in the case of Alma J. Brown, administratrix of the estate of Joseph Anthony Brown, plaintiff, vs. Patterson, individually and in his official capacity; and the town of Red Springs, in a civil case concerning the death of Joseph Brown.
Hackney said the investigation revealed that Patterson had rented three storage units at Highway 211 Mini Storage Unit in Red Springs. When his past due rental fees reached $3,151, the contents of his units were sold. The investigation identified the person who took possession of items within the units. Among the items discovered were crime scene photos, firearms, narcotics, photos of nude women, fingerprint files, criminal investigative files, handcuffs, ammunition, and the sexual harassment file relating to Locklear.
That is the file given to The Robesonian.