Sheriff spoke of killing deputy who had recording of his "racially offensive" comments, charges say

/ CBS/AP

A North Carolina sheriff is facing charges for allegedly discussing a plan to kill a former deputy who had a recording of the sheriff using "racially offensive" language. Granville County Sheriff Brindell Wilkins was indicted Monday on felony justice obstruction charges. County leaders have called an emergency meeting for Tuesday morning.

Prosecutors say Wilkins learned in 2014 that Deputy Joshua Freeman planned to give the recording to authorities in Raleigh, the Raleigh News & Observer reports. The indictment says Wilkins then spoke with a person in August of that year about killing Freeman, even going so far as to coach the unnamed third party on how to avoid identification by law enforcement.

Court documents allege that Wilkins didn't warn the deputy of the credible threat on his life, didn't seize a firearm the unnamed person showed him and threatened to use in the alleged plot, and didn't detain the person to investigate further.

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The sheriff "failed to properly execute his duties because of his personal animosity towards Joshua Freeman," the documents say.

Granville County Sheriff Brindell Wilkins WNCN

Wilkins allegedly told the unnamed person to "take care of it," saying, "if you need to take care of somethin', just take care of something," and "the only way you gonna stop him is kill him."
Wilkins allegedly coached the person about covering up a crime, saying, "you ain't got the weapon, you ain't got nothing to go on," and "the only way we find out these murder things is people talk. You can't tell nobody nothin'."

Wilkins was reportedly released on a $20,000 bond. He remains in the office he has held since 2009.

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman says the indictment resulted from a 10-month investigation by state and federal authorities.

Lorrin Freeman took on the case from Mike Waters, the district attorney in neighboring Granville County, after Waters determined he had a conflict, according to a statement from Freeman's office. In a November 2018 letter to Freeman, Waters said he had previously represented the deputy while in private practice. Waters said the deputy gave him a copy of the recording in 2014 and that Waters then provided it to federal and state officials. In the letter, Waters asked Freeman to advise state officials as to whether they should open an investigation.

Freeman did so. State officials have also been investigating the accounting and operations of the Granville County drug interdiction unit, where the deputy worked, according to the paper.

"Part of this investigation has centered on why this sort of conversation would have occurred, what the underlying motivation would have been," Freeman, the Wake County district attorney, told the News & Observer on Tuesday. "Additional information has come to light regarding operations and accounting practices of the Granville County narcotics interdiction team."

The sheriff's office referred comment to Granville County Attorney Jim Wrenn. A statement released to CBS News by Wrenn said the county board of commissioners "has been fully informed of the available information this morning and is monitoring the situation."

"As this situation unfolds, the Board hopes that all parties involved remember that the focus must remain on the welfare of the citizens of Granville County," the county statement read. "All involved must prioritize the need to maintain the public trust and faith in the effective and unbiased enforcement of laws and administration of justice in Granville County. Like all people charged with a criminal offense, Sheriff Wilkins is entitled to a presumption of innocence."

The board does not have supervisory authority over the sheriff, the statement said. A press conference was planned for Tuesday afternoon.

First published on September 17, 2019 / 5:41 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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