Ashe Co sheriff facing criminal charges, suspended from office stemming from WBTV records request

JEFFERSON, NC (WBTV) - Ashe County Sheriff Terry Buchanan was indicted Monday by a grand jury on charges related to mishandling a public records request from WBTV.

Buchanan was indicted on three counts of felony obstruction of justice and three counts of misdemeanor willful failure to discharge duties.

A judge ordered Buchanan released from jail on a $25,000 unsecured bond. As a condition of his release, Buchanan also had to surrender his Sheriff's Office vehicle, county cell phone, county master key and any other county property in his possession.

DOCUMENTS: Indictments in the case against Sheriff Buchanan

In addition to the criminal charges, a judge also granted a request from District Attorney Tom Horner to suspend Buchanan from office with pay pending a full hearing to have him removed from office.

Buchanan appeared in court Monday afternoon—still wearing his Sheriff's badge—with his lawyer but said very little. He was taken out a back door of the courthouse after the court hearing, driven over to the front of his office but did not get out of the car following his first appearance in court.

Neither Buchanan nor his attorney provided a statement to reporters following Monday's hearing.

Since April, WBTV has been investigating Buchanan and the Ashe County Commissioners' vote to appoint him to sheriff this past January. The station submitted a request for communication records - including emails and text messages - from the county commissioners and Buchanan in early April.

WBTV submitted a second request for additional communication records from Buchanan and Commissioner Jeff Rose in July.

Buchanan responded to WBTV's April request in remarks at a county commissioners meeting just weeks after receiving the letter.

"We don't have time for this," Buchanan told the commissioners of WBTV's public records request in April. "Everything we have is (sic) public document but this takes away from all of our jobs; takes away from my job."

Ultimately, Buchanan used county funds to hire a private attorney to help him respond to WBTV's records request.

Later, Buchanan ordered his deputies to investigate three county employees who attempted to access his text messages in an attempt to fulfill WBTV's request.

That move by the sheriff prompted District Attorney Tom Horner to step in, stop the county investigation and launch a state inquiry.

WBTV confirmed an investigation was underway by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation in early September. The state investigation came to a head Monday when a grand jury returned a criminal indictment against Buchanan.

The six indictments handed down by the grand jury on Monday specifically relate to Buchanan's efforts to investigate county employees who were trying to fulfill WBTV's records request.

"The jurors for the State upon their oath present that in the month of June of 2017, in Ashe County, North Carolina, the defendant named above unlawfully, willfully and feloniously did, with deceit and intent to defraud, obstruct justice while serving in the defendant's public office of Sheriff of Ashe County, North Carolina, by allowing an unlawful investigation to be conducted by the Defendant's deputies of the Ashe County, North Carolina Sheriff's Office," the indictments for the felony charges read.

Buchanan's next court date is November 13, 2017.

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