Granville County sheriff accused of murder plot will be paid pending trial

Granville County Sheriff Brindell Wilkins, who is accused of plotting to murder an ex-deputy, will continue to get paid during his suspension while his court date is pushed back.

After a closed session, the Granville County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted Oct. 7 to keep paying Wilkins’ annual $109,608 salary and benefits during a suspension that might continue for months.

“Depriving an elected official of his or her pay based on charges which have not been adjudicated and to which the elected official has not had an opportunity to respond is not a decision to be taken lightly,” Granville County Attorney Jim Wrenn said.

“It (Wilkins’ trial) could be delayed by months,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean we won’t gain access to additional information in that time that will convince the commissioners to change their decision.”

Wilkins is charged with two counts of felony obstruction of justice.

He had a court date set for Oct. 9, but his attorney, Thomas C. Manning, and Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman asked to postpone the case because Manning has a capital murder trial and Freeman has an ongoing investigation, according to an email from Freeman.

Allegedly racist recording

Wilkins has been sheriff since 2009 and was re-elected last year. He was indicted in September, amid allegations that he was worried that a former deputy had a recording of him using racist language.

In an August 2014 conversation, also recorded, Wilkins expressed concern that the ex-deputy, Joshua Freeman, would release the tape, according to court records.

“Take care of it,” he told the other person, according to court records. “The only way to stop him is to kill him.”

Wilkins’ indictment said the sheriff “did obstruct public and legal justice by withholding knowledge of a credible threat made by an individual known by the Sheriff to imminently kill Joshua Freeman.”

Granville County District Attorney Mike Waters gave the recording of Wilkins to the FBI in 2014 and the State Bureau of Investigation in 2017, but Wilkins was only charged after Waters contacted Lorrin Freeman last year about the stalled investigation, The News & Observer previously reported. Joshua Freeman and Lorrin Freeman are not related.

Removing a sheriff North Carolina

Sheriffs can be removed from office for neglecting their duties, willful misconduct, corruption, extortion or upon conviction of a felony, according to state law.

If a sheriff is accused of any of those offenses, a petition for removal is required. The county attorney determines whether or not to file the petition and the district attorney prosecutes.

Wrenn petitioned for Wilkins to be removed on Sept. 23.

The Wake County District Attorney’s Office will prosecute Wilkins’ case because Waters has a conflict, having represented the ex-deputy while in private practice.

Wilkins’ new court date is yet to be set. He is out of jail having posted bail and remains suspended from his job with pay.

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Ashad Hajela reports on public safety for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. He studied journalism at New York University.