North Carolina sheriff urged killing ex-deputy over racist recording, records allege

Granville County Sheriff Brindell Wilkins was indicted Monday on two counts of felony obstruction of justice amid allegations he discussed killing a former deputy who had a recording of him using “racially insensitive language.”

Wilkins, who has served since 2009, was indicted after a recorded conversation with a “well-known” person who threatened a former deputy, Joshua Freeman, Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said Monday.

During the August 2014 conversation, court records said, Wilkins indicated he thought Joshua Freeman would soon release an audio recording of him using “racially insensitive language” to authorities in Raleigh.

The sheriff advised the person he was speaking with to “take care of it” and said “the only way you gonna stop him is kill him,” adding instructions on how to commit the murder without being identified, court records stated,

“You ain’t got the weapon, you ain’t got nothing to go on,” Wilkins said, according to court records. “The only way we find out these murder things is people talk. You can’t tell nobody, not a thing.”

In that conversation, Wilkins also heard specific threats to kill his former deputy at a particular time and place but did not warn the officer or take any action, court records stated.

Court documents said Wilkins did so “in secrecy and malice, with deceit and intent to defraud.”

“The defendant failed to properly execute his duties because of his personal animosity towards Joshua Freeman,” the indictment stated, “who defendant was told had expressed an intention to publicly disclose a purported audio recording of the defendant using racially offensive language.”

Wilkins was released on a $20,000 bond and remains in office. Efforts to reach the sheriff for comment were unsuccessful.

“Technically,” Lorrin Freeman said, “he can continue to serve if he chooses to until convicted.”

Drug unit under scrutiny

In November, Lorrin Freeman was contacted about the conversation by Mike Waters, who is the district attorney in Granville County but had represented Joshua Freeman when in private practice.

The two Freemans are not related.

In his letter to Lorrin Freeman, Waters said the deputy gave him a copy of the recording in 2014 and he then passed it over to the State Bureau of Investigation. Waters provided another copy last year and asked Freeman, the Wake district attorney, to decide whether to open an investigation.

Since then, and a result of its investigation into Wilkins’ recording, the SBI has also been looking into accounting and operations of the Granville County Sheriff’s Office drug interdiction unit, assisted by federal agents. Joshua Freeman, the former deputy, worked for the drug interdiction unit.

That subsequent investigation continues.

“Part of this investigation has centered on why this sort of conversation would have occurred, what the underlying motivation would have been,” Lorrin Freeman said Tuesday. “Additional information has come to light regarding operations and accounting practices of the Granville County narcotics interdiction team.”

Removing a sheriff

At a press conference Tuesday, Granville County Attorney Jim Wrenn said he finds the charges “unsettling.”

The county commissioners have met to discuss the sheriff’s status but have no supervision over his elected position.

A state statute would allow Wrenn to seek the sheriff’s removal through the courts, but at this point the county attorney said he is only privy to information that has been released publicly. He would want to hear the recording before making such a decision.

So Wilkins remains on the job for now.

“I am mindful of the need to preserve the public confidence ... but I am also mindful there is an ongoing criminal investigation,” he said. “Like all parties charged, Sheriff Wilkins is entitled to a presumption of innocence.”

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Josh Shaffer covers Wake County and federal courts. He has been a reporter for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.