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Sheriff helped plot his own deputy’s killing over ‘racially offensive’ tape, prosecutors say

Granville County Sheriff Brindell Wilkins. (Granville County)
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Granville County Sheriff Brindell Wilkins learned one of his deputies had a tape of him making “racially offensive” comments, prosecutors say. So the North Carolina lawman encouraged another man to kill the officer, according to a felony indictment revealed late Monday night.

“The only way you gonna stop him is kill him,” Wilkins allegedly told the would-be shooter in a 2014 recorded phone call about a plan to kill former deputy Joshua Freeman. The plot was not carried out.

Wilkins is charged with two felony counts of obstruction of justice charges for his failure to arrest the unnamed person or report the threat on Freeman’s life, and for also allegedly giving the man advice about how to get away with the killing.

Wilkins has been sheriff of the small county in northern North Carolina, where the biggest town is home to about 8,400 people, since 2009 and was most recently reelected in 2018. Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman, who brought the charges, told the News & Observer that Wilkins is still the sheriff.

“Technically,” the prosecutor said, “he can continue to serve if he chooses to until convicted.”

According to the indictment, Wilkins found out in 2014 that Joshua Freeman claimed to have a recording of the sheriff using “racially offensive language,” and that the deputy planned to publicly reveal the tape and turn it over to authorities in Raleigh. It’s unclear what Wilkins might have said on that alleged tape or what became of the recording.

In the August 2014 phone call, prosecutors said, Wilkins’s “personal animosity” toward Joshua Freeman led him to go along with the plan to kill the deputy. The recorded call makes it clear the sheriff had no intention to protect Freeman or intervene, according to the indictment.

On the call, the sheriff advised the unnamed man, whom Wilkins knew, that “if you need to take care of somethin', just take care of something,” according to the indictment.

The man gave Wilkins a specific time and location detailing when he planned to kill Joshua Freeman, plus described the firearm he planned to use in the shooting, the indictment says.

Wilkins then “counseled the individual how to commit the murder in a manner as to avoid identification," the indictment says.

He had two major pieces of advice for the would-be gunman. First, don’t let police find the murder weapon. “You ain’t got the weapon, you ain’t got nothing to go on,” Wilkins allegedly said.

And second, don’t talk. “The only way we find out these murder things is people talk,” Wilkins allegedly said. “You can’t tell nobody nothin', not a thing.”

Wilkins assured the man that if he followed through on the killing, Wilkins would not reveal anything to authorities about having any prior knowledge of the plot, according to the indictment.

The indictment describes the person’s threat as “credible.”

Wilkins “failed to make reasonable and professional efforts to help prevent harm to victim Joshua Freeman, including failing to immediately warn Joshua Freeman of the credible threat ... or failing to effectuate an arrest of this individual,” the indictment states. Wilkins “failed to properly execute his duties because of his personal animosity towards Joshua Freeman, who [Wilkins] was told had expressed an intention to publicly disclose to authorities a purported audio recording of the defendant using racially offensive language.”

Wilkins did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Monday.

Wilkins’s indictment in Granville County comes after a 10-month investigation by the FBI and N.C. State Bureau of Investigation, although authorities were aware of the phone call since 2014, according to a statement from Lorrin Freeman.

The Wake County prosecutor took over the investigation in 2018 after Granville County District Attorney Mike Waters disclosed a conflict of interest in the case, according to the statement. Waters may also be a witness in the case, because he represented Joshua Freeman in his private practice in 2014. At that time, Waters obtained a copy of the recording of Wilkins allegedly encouraging Freeman’s killing. Waters contacted the FBI and handed over the recording in August 2014, he wrote in a letter to the Wake County district attorney.

In January 2017, Waters said he met with leaders of the State Bureau of Investigation and gave them the recording as well. After nothing appeared to be happening, he provided the recording to a different agent in October 2018 and also wrote to Lorrin Freeman, asking her to take over and advise the state agency on whether to open an investigation because of his conflict. She agreed.

“I have reviewed this recording,” Lorrin Freeman wrote to SBI agents, requesting help. “It contains a conversation between two individuals, one of whom appears to be the Granville County Sheriff, about a former deputy sheriff and culminates in a discussion about committing a homicide.”

Wilkins appeared before a Granville County magistrate Monday and was released on a $20,000 bond.

Wilkins’s office is also under investigation for its accounting practices and its drug interdiction unit, according to the Wake County district attorney. Joshua Freeman worked at the sheriff’s office as a K-9 narcotics interdiction officer between 2011 and 2014, according to his LinkedIn profile, although it’s unclear when he left the sheriff’s office.

Following Wilkins’s indictment, the Granville Board of Commissioners called an emergency meeting for Tuesday morning, CBS17 reported.