Despite pressure to do so, this newspaper until today has not mentioned that Ronnie Patterson, the Red Springs police chief who wants to be sheriff, was targeted in a sexual harassment lawsuit in 2008. Nor have we questioned his ability to testify in court because of accusations that he has lied previously while under oath.
Patterson’s own campaign, however, has addressed these issues consistently, in community forums, private conversations with us, and in a robocall that began making its rounds earlier this week. Their denials invited scrutiny — and the strategy has backfired.
The Robesonian has tried to keep this ugly sheriff’s campaign focused on the now and the future, understanding that with five candidates, all with lengthy resumes in law enforcement, there would be an abundance of accusations of what happened in yesteryear against all candidates.
But our hand was forced on Monday, when in walked an inch-thick file concerning the allegations of sexual harassment against Patterson when he was a captain at the Red Springs Police Department, a file whose existence had been denied by his camp, and one that we believe was once part of his personnel file at Red Springs.
Although we doubt they will deny the file’s authenticity, Patterson’s campaign staff will deflect, saying those who delivered it have an agenda — and they do. That is irrelevant, but the truth inside the file is not.
Details are offered in a page 1A story today. But in a nutshell, during the investigation of the sexual harassment allegations, Patterson was found to have lied multiple times under oath, something he later admitted to doing. That provoked a scathing letter from J. Rick Brown, an investigator for the Department of Justice, who questioned the town’s punishment — two weeks without pay and demotion from captain to school resource officer — and said that Patterson was unfit to be a police officer and much more, including he was a potential liability for the town. A PDF of the letter can be found at robesonian.com with today’s page 1A story.
The investigation determined that the allegations of sexual harassment were “unsubstantiated,” but the relationship with a subordinate we believe was clearly inappropriate and compromised the town. It remains interesting that Patterson later left the department, and was rehired as police chief despite town officials possessing evidence of his willingness to lie under oath.
Patterson wants to become sheriff of a county that suffers from the worst crime problem in the state, but also has a reputation for corruption at the Sheriff’s Office. The administration of Hubert Stone, the sheriff from 1978 to 1994, has been widely criticized as corrupt and racist toward blacks and Indians. Stone’s administration was investigated hard, especially after the takeover of this newspaper, and charges never brought. But we would not deny that it employed some corrupt and racist lawmen.
We have been pressured as well to detail Wilkins’ association with Stone, and we will now. He worked under Stone for 10 years, first as a deputy, then a supervisor and then chief of detectives. And yes, during that time, drugs and evidence went missing from a locker at the Sheriff’s Office, and Wilkins was one of three people with the keys to the locker. He was never charged in that crime, which occurred in the late 1980s, and two other people went to federal prison for the crime.
Memories of Operation Tarnished Badge, which ended Glenn Maynor’s 10-year tenure as in 2004, remain fresh, and is not only a stain yet to be removed, but one that continues to deny this county the ability to share in drug forfeiture assets that could benefit law enforcement.
The administration of Ken Sealey, appointed in 2005, elected in 2006 and then twice re-elected, has been scandal-free, and that has helped restore confidence in the office, which cannot be risked.
We believe it is important that the next sheriff of Robeson County is a person of integrity, someone who can be trusted to tell the truth, treat people of all color fairly, and someone who is qualified to hold that position. We are convinced there are more than a couple of candidates who check of all those points, but not all.
Sometime deep into the day of May 8, we will know if the public shares our sentiment.