RALEIGH, N.C. — Prosecutors have dropped felony obstruction charges against a North Carolina mountain county sheriff, who then resigned from the job he’s held for a tumultuous year amid political intrigues and a reality-TV deputy’s murder case.
Superior Court Judge Judge R. Gregory Horne on Monday approved a decision by prosecutors to drop felony obstruction justice charges and their effort to remove Ashe County Sheriff Terry Buchanan from office. Buchanan, who was appointed in January 2017, agreed to resign Monday as county commissioners approved paying him $71,404, his salary for the rest of this year.
“I think they wanted to pay that out so basically it would be over with,” Buchanan said Tuesday, adding the money allows him to recover from recent spinal surgery.
Buchanan and his wife agreed not to sue over his prosecution, the judge’s signed order said.
A divided county commission picked fellow Republican Buchanan — an outsider without prior law enforcement management experience — over a Democratic candidate. His predecessor had retired shortly after a deputy was charged with murder for his second deadly shooting within three years.
That deputy, Joshua Hopkins, had recurring appearances in 2014-15 on the cable-TV show “Southern Justice” about law officers in Appalachian communities in North Carolina and Tennessee.
But while he said he was appointed to upset a good-old-boy political network in North Carolina’s northwest corner, Buchanan admitted some of his troubles stemmed from inexperience.
“I’m still learning this job as I’m on it,” he said during a November interview. “I’m just trying to figure it out as I go.”
Buchanan was suspended in October after local District Attorney Tom Horner charged him with three counts of felony obstruction of justice and willful failure to discharge his duties, a misdemeanor. Horner did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday.
Buchanan had bristled when last spring Charlotte television station WBTV requested emails, text messages and other records showing how and why commissioners selected him. Buchanan argued the TV station’s reporter was acting at the suggestion of political enemies who were loyal to former Sheriff James Williams.
Deputies interrogated county employees who had sought to fulfill the public records request by moving to collect data from a private cellphone Buchanan used for official business. State agents investigated. Horner accused Buchanan of abusing his position by targeting three county employees and withholding records from WBTV that law requires be produced. WBTV sued for records being withheld.
Buchanan was appointed two months after Williams announced his retirement after 10 years, citing the stress of the job.
Two months earlier, former Williams deputy and local celebrity Joshua “Hoppy” Hopkins was charged with second-degree murder.
Hopkins — whose reality-TV appearances featured him speeding down country roads to meth labs, manhunts and disputes with shirtless men — had left Williams’ agency for a Tennessee sheriff’s department after he fatally shot Christmas tree farmer Dallas Shatley, 62, in July 2015. Authorities said then that Hopkins fired after Shatley tried to drive away from an encounter with three law officers, and that one of the deputies became snagged in the pickup and was being dragged.
Hopkins was previously sued for wrongful death but not charged in the 2012 killing of Walter Houck, a legally blind and nearly deaf man whose family said fired a gun into his rural yard to scare away coyotes when he let his dog outside.
Hopkins, who now lives in Johnson City, Tennessee, is due to appear in court on the murder charge next month. He referred questions Tuesday to his attorney, who did not return a call seeking comment.