While it is the first time he’s faced criminal charges, Thursday’s arrest of former Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby Medford and three of his deputies on federal extortion charges is not the first time Medford’s behavior has sparked controversy, or that accusations of corruption or abuse of his office have been leveled.
The following timeline chronicles some of the controversies that arose during Medford’s tenure as Sheriff.
November 1994: Bobby Medford elected as Sheriff. He wins a total of three elections and holds the office for 12 years.
October 2000: Medford hires one of his sons, Brian Medford, as an office assistant. Later, Capt. Don Fraser a retired jail annex supervisor, alleges that Brian Medford received preferential treatment while later serving a DWI sentence (also employed by the Sheriff’s Office at the time). “Our orders were, ‘Don’t worry about where [Brian Medford] goes,’ even if he came in at 1 a.m. We were told, ‘Don’t worry about what’s in his locker,’” Fraser later tells Xpress. County commissioners, who approve the hiring, are not clearly informed of Brian Medford’s identity or his previous DWI convictions.
December 2000: According to the federal indictment, Medford allegedly begins running extortion, mail fraud and money laundering operations connected to illegal video-poker machines and gambling.
May 2001: Medford warns “Reclaim the Streets” protesters, while brandishing a riot gun, that he will use deadly force if they attempt to enter the county jail. In response to Xpress reporter Brian Sarzynski’s coverage of the incident, Medford threatens to put him in jail.
June 2002: Xpress reports that the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, under Medford, has 137 full-time deputies and 407 part-time reserve deputies, making it by far the largest reserve force in the state.
October 2002: An Oct. 1 incident of domestic violence involving Sheriff Medford’s son, Jeffrey Medford, raises questions about a coverup. The Sheriff’s Office denies Xpress reporters access to 911 tapes of the incident, a violation of public open records law (the tapes are eventually provided on Oct. 28). Multiple discrepancies in the handling of the incident are found. Later, a transcript of the sheriff’s radio reports at the incident reveals that deputies reported no injuries, contradicting eyewitness reports and the 911 call. After the Xpress breaks the story, Medford calls for an SBI investigation of the incident. SBI does not press charges against Medford. Jeffrey Medford is never charged in the case. An Xpress editorial criticizes the Citizen-Times as dismissing the incident as politics.
June 2003: The victim in the Jeffrey Medford domestic violence incident, Nisha Sherlin tells Xpress that Sheriff Medford paid her hush money, after he put her in jail briefly on charges related to a traffic accident. Official hospital records show that Sherlin told the attending nurse that Jeffrey Medford had physically abused her, while the Sheriff’s deputy attending the case reported she had been injured in a traffic accident.
November 2003: The Citizen-Times reports on wrongful incarceration and alleged coercion of a witness by Medford. David Hammack and John Collins are incarcerated in a murder case based on a single witness’ statement. The witness later recants her statement, alleging Medford had threatened to take her children from her if she didn’t sign it. An Xpress editorial praises the Citizen-Times and notes problems with Medford and District Attorney Ron Moore‘s handling of the case.
October 2004: Xpress reports that many video poker machines seem to be out of compliance with the law.
June 2005: Xpress reports on lax regulation, uncollected taxes and rumored illegal cash payouts with video poker machines.
June 2006: County Manager Wanda Greene asserts in an internal e-mail that there are 11 unneeded positions in the Sheriff’s office that “many Sheriff employees’ say just sit around.” Medford sternly rebuts the statement at the next Buncombe County Board of Commissioners’ meeting, stating “I think it’s a damn shame that this thing [Greene’s e-mail] ever hit the county commissioners’ office.”
November 2006: Medford loses re-election to current Sheriff Van Duncan.
June 2007: A state audit after Medford leaves office finds guns, drugs, money and rape kits, among other items, missing from the evidence rooms. Medford claims the guns are buried in the concrete as part of the Buncombe Detention Facility.
December 2007: Medford is arrested on federal charges.
—David Forbes, staff writer