Medford, deputies to remain behind bars

Former Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby Medford and three of his deputies, arrested Dec. 13 on federal extortion charges, will remain in custody until their trials.

Before the fall: Former Sheriff Bobby Medford, at a campaign event last year during his last and failed run for the office. Photo By Jonathan Welch

On Dec. 17, Magistrate Judge Dennis Howell ruled that Medford and former Lts. John Harrison and Ronnie Eugene “Butch” Davis posed a risk of injury to the safety of others or the community and would therefore remain in custody. The next day, Howell made the same ruling concerning former reserve Capt. Guy Penland.

All four are charged with extortion, mail fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice in relation to an alleged protection operation they ran for illegal gambling and video-poker operators during the last six years of Medford’s 12-year tenure. All pleaded “not guilty.”

Medford’s trial is set for March 25. He and Harrison are being held in the Caldwell County Jail, while Davis and Penland are in the Burke County Jail.

At Medford’s Dec. 17 hearing, his attorney, Bob Long, asserted that due to chronic back pain, the former sheriff posed no risk of escape and could therefore be released until his trial. But Howell rejected that argument in his ruling.

“The nature of the alleged offenses and the alleged acts which underlay them indicates to this court that despite taking solemn oaths to enforce the laws and the Constitution the defendant was—while wearing a badge—willing to ignore and disobey the law,” the ruling reads. “Due to the manner in which the offenses were allegedly conducted, there exist many people who participated in this conspiracy and who are now potential witnesses for the government.”

Letting Medford out on bond before the trial, the ruling continues, could put those witnesses or others in the community in danger. “The court believes that he would certainly be willing to obstruct justice to avoid the extensive periods of incarceration which are likely in this case.”

The ruling also notes that although Medford appears to have “an addiction to powerful prescription pain relievers” and seems to be in poor health, he “suffered from most if not all of these disabilities during the time of the alleged criminal conduct.”

If convicted on the charges, the ruling notes, Medford will probably spend the rest of his life in prison.

Visit for documents relating to the Medford case.


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