Former Sheriff Bobby Medford will be released from jail until his March 25 trial on extortion charges, federal judge Thomas Ellis, III ruled this afternoon, reversing a previous ruling. Medford will be electronically monitored and will stay with his sister and her husband. He will not be allowed contact with former or current law enforcement officers, witnesses in the case (including his partner, Judith Bell) or the family members of witnesses. He will not be allowed to leave the house unless seeing his attorney or doctor.
In remarks during the hearing, Ellis and prosecuting attorneys said that the investigation is ongoing and that deputies within the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office are targets.
In announcing his ruling, Ellis said that he found the evidence against Medford “substantial,” and the charges of corruption “of the greatest gravity,” but, as he did not believe the prosecution had concrete evidence that Medford had acted to obstruct justice since the former sheriff became aware that he might be investigated, he couldn’t find a “clear and compelling reason” to incarcerate Medford until his trial. Medford attorney Stephen Lindsay said the former sheriff will likely be released by the weekend.
“I think we can craft a set of conditions that will prevent the possibility that he might obstruct justice,” Ellis said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Edwards had argued that Medford was “the head of the snake” of a criminal operation and that, unless incarcerated, he could still find ways to contact his loyalists and tamper with witnesses. He said that Medford’s release might prove especially harmful as the investigation was ongoing and included other former and current sheriff’s deputies.
“The ‘de-Baathification’ of the sheriff’s department, so to speak, is not over yet,” he argued.
Medford’s sister, Helen Medford Reese, and her husband, Mitchell Reese, agreed to act as third-party guardians for Medford. Ellis required that the equity home as well as Medford’s family home (ownership of which is shared between him and his sister) as surety that Medford would not violate the rules of his detention. Ellis noted that he believes tying Medford’s good behavior to his family’s financial well-being “should prove a powerful deterrent.”
Three of Medford’s former deputies, former Lts. John Harrison and Ronnie Eugene “Butch” Davis, along with former reserve Capt. Guy Penland, were released under similar conditions. This was done with the agreement of the prosecution, which asserted that they did not pose the same threat as Medford.
— David Forbes, staff writer