Woodfin: Small town scandal or the tip of the iceberg?

By now, you’ve probably heard about the unusual social behavior of Woodfin’s bisexual police chief. Everybody has. That’s the point of a smear campaign: To get the story out to as many people as possible in an effort to destroy the credibility, reputation and, quite simply, the life of the person being targeted.

But the effort to destroy Pete Bradley, the beleaguered and defamed law-enforcement veteran who’s been caught in the crosshairs by an unknown character assassin or assassins, just might be backfiring. (See sidebar for a time line on these events.)

Now that the initial whirlwind of publicity surrounding the more prurient aspects of this case is winding down, more substantial questions are beginning to bubble to the surface. And those questions will have to be answered by some of the most powerful people in law enforcement at both the state and local levels. Among those questions are:

Why were confidential SBI documents pertaining to Bradley (which were part of an extensive investigation of the law-enforcement branch of the state Department of Motor Vehicles in Western North Carolina) leaked to the media and the public?

Why has so much of the attention and publicity been focused on the sexual orientation of Pete Bradley — who doesn’t appear to have broken any laws, hasn’t been accused of breaking any, and hasn’t boasted publicly of having done so? Especially when, all the while, Woodfin Mayor Homer Honeycutt — who’s both an elected official and an employee of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department — has been captured on tape boasting to a Woodfin police officer about fixing tickets. Fixing tickets is patently illegal, and such a boast by an elected official should be taken seriously indeed.

Why does Honeycutt drive an unmarked sheriff’s cruiser equipped with a radio and blue lights, as several Woodfin residents and officials have alleged? And why have numerous Woodfin residents — including one of the six members of the town’s Board of Aldermen — reported that Honeycutt has been seen on many occasions driving the county-owned vehicle to campaign functions (before he was elected) and using it to conduct town business (after he was elected mayor)?

District Attorney Ron Moore has continually denied having leaked the SBI’s information about Bradley to the press, but according to the Asheville Citizen-Times, he has admitted to having shared the file with an unnamed law-enforcement agency. Meanwhile, the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department told the Citizen-Times that they “can neither confirm nor deny that they have a copy of the file.” These statements, too, raise several questions: Why can’t Moore name the agency with which he shared the file? What was the purpose of sharing the supposedly confidential material (see sidebar) with any law-enforcement agency? Why is the Sheriff’s Department issuing such an ambiguous statement about whether or not they have the SBI info on Bradley?

And finally, the question that has piqued the interest of many observers: What, exactly, was the SBI looking for during its lengthy investigation of the DMV? The SBI initiated its probe nearly two years ago, in the spring of 2000, after having received complaints from Bradley (then an officer with the DMV) alleging bribery, payoffs, misappropriations of state property, and other misconduct on the part of DMV enforcement personnel in Western North Carolina. Having concluded its investigation, the SBI turned over its findings to the state attorney general’s office seven months ago. At press time, the attorney general’s office was still looking into the matter.

Meanwhile, amid rampant speculation and continuing developments in this complex saga, Xpress has learned that Bradley isn’t the only local DMV officer claiming to be the victim of a smear campaign. Another officer who cooperated with the SBI investigation has filed a lawsuit in Haywood County claiming that he, too, has been targeted in retaliation for his having cooperated with the SBI. And the details in this officer’s complaint, which mirror many of Bradley’s allegations, may very well offer a glimpse into just what it was the SBI was looking into.

Brookshire vs. the DMV

David Ricky Brookshire was an enforcement officer with the DMV for 21 years, working his way up to the rank of lieutenant. But his long career in law enforcement was cut short when he was fired on Oct. 11, 2000 for “unacceptable personal conduct.” Brookshire’s attorney, John Hunter, filed a lawsuit last October in Haywood County Superior Court claiming that his client was wrongfully fired in retaliation for having cooperated with the same SBI investigation in which Bradley participated. The suit, which names both the DMV and Capt. Gary Ramsey (Brookshire’s supervisor) as defendants, cites Article 14 (chapter 126) of the North Carolina General Statutes, titled “Protection for Reporting Improper Government Activities.”

In an earlier interview with Xpress, former Woodfin Police Chief Bradley said the SBI investigation had centered on Ramsey, Inspector Charlie Ellinberg and Lt. Joe Austin of the DMV. Bradley also noted that, at the height of the investigation, Austin left the DMV. Austin now works for the Buncombe County Tax Office in collections and is a reserve officer with the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department, according to Capt. Lee Farnsworth.

Brookshire’s complaint states: “Beginning in June 2000, the plaintiff began to cooperate with an on-going investigation being conducted by the SBI. … During his involvement with the above mentioned investigation, Plaintiff related to both agents of the State Bureau of Investigation, and to persons who identified themselves as agents of the FBI, information he possessed concerning the alleged involvement of defendant Ramsey in efforts to have traffic citations issued by district 8 enforcement personnel dismissed or otherwise not effectively prosecuted.”

In defending himself against the accusations that led to his firing, however, Brookshire claims that much of his alleged “unacceptable personal conduct” was either authorized by Ramsey or was “standard practice” within the DMV — painting a picture of a law-enforcement agency whose standard practices might surprise the average citizen.

Paving companies, football tickets, wedding presents and golf outings

Brookshire’s lawsuit acknowledges that APAC-Harrison Division Paving Company set up a tent at Brookshire’s wedding. But Brookshire defends himself by claiming: “Plaintiff did not solicit this as a gratuity and was not aware of it prior to its being done. When he asked about it, a representative of the company told him to accept it as a wedding gift. Further, as alleged in paragraph 3 of the dismissal notice, plaintiff did on occasion accept football tickets from APAC representatives. However, this was standard practice within the division and District 8. … Plaintiff did solicit a cash contribution of $500 from a paving contractor in Western North Carolina. However, it was not APAC-Harrison as alleged in the dismissal notice, and the solicitation was done at the direct request of Captain Ramsey to support a golf outing planned by Captain Ramsey for the DMV Enforcement Captains and other high ranking DMV and Department of Transportation officials from around the state. The solicitation of such cash contributions from paving and other contractors for such purposes was standard practice within the Enforcement Section of the DMV.”

Why would paving contractors be so interested in lavishing gifts on DMV enforcement personnel? Brookshire’s complaint may shed some light on this question. One of the reasons given in his dismissal letter, dated Oct. 11, 2000, is, “On Thursday, November 18, 1999, you altered, voided and reduced an overweight citation … as a favor for Mr. Darrell Mathis, manager of APAC-Harrison Paving Company a violation of General Order 24 (III).”

DMV law enforcement issues overweight citations at weigh stations to trucks whose loads exceed the legal limit.

Brookshire’s complaint flatly denies the allegation, saying, “Plaintiff in no manner altered an over-weight citation as alleged in … the dismissal notice.”

The lawsuit is still pending. The state attorney general (who represents the DMV) and Ramsey’s lawyer (Asheville attorney Robert Long) have responded to Brookshire’s suit, challenging most of the claims set forth in the complaint and requesting a jury trial. In addition, the attorney general has filed a cross-claim against co-defendant Ramsey that states, in part, “In the event that Plaintiff is allowed to recover any damages against Defendant DMV … Defendant Ramsey is liable for all damages to Plaintiff, and Defendant DMV is entitled to complete indemnity from Defendant Ramsey.”

Meanwhile, Woodfin residents remain sharply divided — and some are wondering whether they, too, are being targeted for revenge. Town resident Monica Bagby, who spoke out against the mayor at a Feb. 20 public hearing, has said she fears for her safety. Within days of her public statement, she contacted the Woodfin Police Department to report that she had heard four gunshots while at home one evening.

And Ron Dayton, the only member of the Woodfin Board of Aldermen who didn’t vote to fire Bradley, told Xpress that he has received two threatening phone calls from anonymous callers who told him he needed to “support Honeycutt or get out of town.” Dayton also said that someone had cut the phone line to his house shortly after he first publicly expressed support for the police chief.

Dayton has also been the target of an anonymous pamphleteer. Woodfin residents and shoppers at a nearby supermarket have had fliers placed on their vehicles that read, “CITIZEN ALERT: Protect yourself from: Aldermen [sic] Ron Dayton: “Queer Lover.”

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