Community pays tribute to retiring Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten

Justice Center to be renamed in honor of Auten
Hundreds of friends, family, law enforcement and elected officials turned out Monday in honor...
Hundreds of friends, family, law enforcement and elected officials turned out Monday in honor Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten.(David Whisenant-WBTV)
Published: Nov. 29, 2022 at 7:38 AM EST
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ROWAN COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - There were words of praise, gratitude, and honor as a special event was held on Monday for the community to give a send-off to Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten. Auten is retiring following 12 years as sheriff.

The event was held at the West End Plaza in Salisbury and was attended by hundreds, including law enforcement officials from Rowan and several surrounding agencies, members of the public, elected officials, and members of Auten’s family.

“We knew the type of person that he was, we knew what his heart for service was, and above all, we knew his character and we knew that he had complete respect for us and our roles,” said Rowan County Commission Chairman Greg Edds. “Being sheriff is not an easy job from what I can observe because there’s two parts to being a sheriff; there’s the tough guy who goes after criminals and makes sure the law is followed, but there’s also the soft skills of being a politician...and there’s never been a moment that I didn’t trust everything that he ever told us or issues that he brought before us, so you’re going to be sorely missed. I appreciate you as a professional and I love you as a friend.”

Commissioners also surprised Auten by announcing that the county justice center that includes the courthouse, sheriff’s office, and jail, would be named The Kevin L. Auten Justice Center.

“You are a real tribute to this community, to your family, to the badge, you will be sorely missed and we love you very much,” Edds added.

“I appreciate your friendship and the things that you’ve done for me” said Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes. “While I haven’t been here for your entire career, it has certainly been, in the last six and half years, a valuable relationship that we’ve had.”

Rowan County District Attorney Brandy Cook, who has served 12 years with Auten, praised the sheriff and the team of investigators, and noted particularly the work that was done to bring the Erica Parsons case to a resolution that included the conviction of Erica’s adoptive parents Sandy and Casey Parsons for the murder of the missing Rowan County teen.

“I cannot express to you, nor do I think folks that didn’t personally work on this case will ever recognize or truly understand the dedication, the amount of hours that were invested in this case,” Cook said. “This case’s investigation had a lot of public pressure for a long time, but we simply needed to answer the basic questions of the investigation which was the who, what, when, where, and why, and if you can’t answer the majority of those questions, it’s difficult to have a successful prosecution.”

Cook said that Auten and his team of investigators followed a successful strategy that involved following leads that eventually led to a strong case for prosecution.

“Kevin could have easily caved to public pressure to charge folks in that investigation, but he was a very seasoned investigator and recognized that we needed to stick to the plan, and that worked out,” Cook added.

There were video tributes contributed by NC Senator Carl Ford and US Senator-Elect Ted Budd, as well as former Rowan County Commission Chairman Jim Sides and former US Attorney Matt Martin.

Auten’s sister Kim Smyth also spoke, adding a more personal touch to the festivities.

“I’m making sure I’m at the right party, this is the roast, right?” Smyth said. “I wanted to share a little bit with you about Kevin. Kevin the dad, the son, the brother, and uncle.”

Smyth talked about Auten’s love for his family and his commitment in recent years to his mother.

“This one’s a little bit tough, not fun things to talk about,” Smyth said. “Kevin loves his mother like no other. He tends to her needs and let’s be honest, most of her wants. He cares for her with patience with is a trait that all Autens struggle with. Our dad was so proud of Kevin. He was proud of Kevin before he became sheriff, but when he was elected sheriff, it became next level. Dad is most proud of how he loves and cares for his mom. Being the sheriff is what Kevin did, but not all that Kevin is.”

During his remarks, Auten noted that he had made personal contributions to three local organizations: The Shield A Badge With Prayer effort led by Chaplain Michael Taylor, the School Resource Officer Foundation, and Brenner Children’s Hospital in honor of the older son of Auten’s girlfriend Valerie Risner.

“This is in memory of my oldest son Rodney Brown,” Risner said. “He fought leukemia when he was a senior at South Rowan. He lost his battle December 2, 2005. We go up every Christmas Eve that morning and we take money to the families on the 9th floor of the Oncology section of the hospital. Each year its gotten progressively better and better, I think we had about $1800 last year.”

Auten then encouraged those gathered to consider making contributions to the three organizations.

In his own remarks, a tearful Auten paid tribute to his staff, his family, and especially his father.

“I can’t thank everybody enough for being here,” Auten said. “Mom, I don’t now how much you heard today, but your son did okay babe. I love you mom. We loved dad, we miss dad, and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for y’all. He won the election, I got the job.”

“I’ll close it out saying thank you, I love you,” Auten added, saying that he would remain active in the community and become involved in county boards and other activities.

Sheriff Auten also used the occasion to honor others and to make presentations and offer his own tributes for several officers who are retiring at the end of November, including Chief Deputy David Ramsey, Capt. Randy St. Clair, Maj. John Sifford, Maj. Chad Moose, Detective Phillip “Lane” Kepley and Lt. Carmon Williams.

“We also had the opportunity to celebrate the careers of 9 Sheriff Deputies who are retiring with a combined 284 years of service to Rowan County. You are very much appreciated and will be greatly missed,” Edds added.