WBTV files records lawsuit against Ashe Co. Commissioners, sheriff & county attorney

Updated: Nov. 6, 2017 at 5:34 PM EST
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JEFFERSON, NC (WBTV) - WBTV filed a public records lawsuit against Ashe County, the county commissioners, sheriff and the county's attorney on Monday.

The lawsuit comes seven months to the day since the station first requested public records from commissioners and the sheriff as part of an investigation into Sheriff Terry Buchanan's appointment as sheriff in January.

According to the lawsuit, the station has not received all records responsive to requests it submitted in April, June and July.

DOCUMENT: Click here to read the lawsuit filed by WBTV

"This matter began as a routine public records request by WBTV to the Ashe County records custodian for copies of communications between the County Commissioners and the Sheriff; public contracting records; and public records related to County personnel," the lawsuit says. "It has mushroomed into an ongoing seven month odyssey…"

Buchanan was indicted in late October on charges related to his mishandling of WBTV's records request. A grand jury indicted Buchanan on three felony counts of obstruction of justice and three misdemeanor counts of willful failure to discharge the duties of his office.

District Attorney Tom Horner, who is prosecuting Buchanan, has also asked a judge to permanently remove Buchanan as sheriff. Buchanan is currently suspended pending a full hearing on the removal petition.

Horner has said his office is continuing its investigation with the assistance of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and additional criminal indictments may come later.

Among the things the lawsuit claims WBTV has not received in response to request are "redacted text messages from Yearick referenced in the Removal petition; text messages withheld by Buchanan as referenced in the Removal Petition; and responsive text messages from (County Commissioner Paula) Perry."

"Upon information and belief, the defendants have no intention of voluntarily producing responsive documents to WBTV or providing a lawful justification for not producing responsive documents," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also claims the defendants named in the lawsuit are knowingly and intentionally violating the Public Records Law.

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