Abusing his authority, NC Sheriff goes “above and beyond” what the law allows

By Robin Vander Wall . . . In June, 2017, a registered sex offender in Halifax County was visited by the sheriff’s office for his biannual verification check. Eight days later, and after successful verification of his address, the same registered sex offender was charged with kidnapping and attempting to rape a 1-year-old child.

So much for the usefulness of verification checks, right?

Predictably enough, Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison doesn’t see it that way. In a July interview with CBS17, and in response to the incident in Halifax County, Sheriff Harrison announced that his office intended to perform verification checks at least six-times-a-year, and possibly more.

The Wake County Sheriff Department’s website states that “[b]y going above and beyond what the law requires, the Wake County Sheriff’s Office wants to use every means possible to better protect and serve the citizens of Wake County.”

But Sheriff Harrison isn’t merely going “above and beyond the law,” he’s deliberately operating outside the law and in flagrant violation of what NCGS 14-208.9A lawfully allows.

In North Carolina, registered citizens are notified by certified mail about their registration obligation every six months. If a registered citizen fails to verify his address by visiting the sheriff’s office within three days of receiving his notification, he is subject to arrest.

On paper, this is a sensible process for verifying the current address of a registered citizen because it minimizes the intrusion of law enforcement officers into the lives of people who are already subjected to an overwhelmingly invasive sex offender registration scheme exposing them to public ridicule and harassment 24-hours-a-day.

However, NCGS 14-208.9A also provides local sheriff departments the needed flexibility to physically investigate the “address last registered by [an] offender” in the event that the state’s prescribed mechanism for address verification is frustrated (owing to a registered citizen’s failure to respond to a rather expensive notification process).

But Sheriff Harrison is going well beyond the legislative intent and has decided to use sub-section (b) as a means to render virtually all of subsection (a) little more than a perfunctory inconvenience to citizens who will receive the exact same treatment by obeying the law as citizens who do not.

If Donnie’s deputies are going to violate the law and physically verify all the registered addresses in Wake County 6-times-a-year (by abusing the legislative intent for § 14-208.9A(b)), then why should my time be frittered away by following the law (§ 14-208.9A(a)), waiting for my official notification, and visiting the Sheriff’s office twice a year? What’s the point of it all?

No more onerous than the requirement to register one’s vehicle? I don’t think so! If I fail to register my vehicle, Donnie doesn’t send a deputy to my door in the first place.

I successfully performed my semi-annual duty to register on March 5. Ten days later, I left for a weekend of training in New York City from which I returned on Sunday, March 18. The next day, while walking back from my mailbox, I noticed a piece of trash at the edge of my lawn.

As I approached this piece of trash to retrieve it, I immediately noticed a sheriff’s badge printed on the letterhead. Two and two flashed in my head, and I was soon able to confirm that Investigator J. Moore (the Volksgemeinschaft never have first names, you know) had attempted to verify my home address on March 15, merely ten days AFTER I had done so myself!

That was a windy weekend in North Carolina and I doubt “J” Moore’s leaflet lasted too long nestled under the open ended arch of the storm door’s handle. But, I’m not entirely certain that he ever intended it to stay there for very long. In fact, I’m pretty confident that “J” Moore hoped in his joyful, little heart that the wind might somehow carry his missive throughout the entire neighborhood.

After all, printed on the back side of this screed of intimidation and inducement to fear was something for the neighbors to read. The good sheriff, in his devotion to service and duty to office, wants all his subjects to know that they, too, can be arrested and convicted of a felony offense for withholding or concealing information about a person required to register.

So much for the right to remain silent, huh? Oh, and by the way, the folks responsible for passing this law will soon be in television ads proclaiming their dedication to freedom and liberty and upholding the Constitutional rights of all American citizens. Don’t be fooled!

Even old Donnie (and he’s really starting to show his age at this point) will be on your ballot since it’s time for his re-election. My suspicion is that he’s going to run strong on a platform of making the public safe by hounding registered sex offenders AND their neighbors.

But here’s a few reasonable questions to ask: Is the public made safer when deputized officers are sidetracked with a duty to verify what’s already been verified? Is the public made safer when elected officials enforce laws that do not exist? Is the public made safer when neighbors are encouraged to rat on neighbors?

So much for the Golden Rule, huh?

Robin Vander Wall

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Robin is NARSOL's chair, the managing editor of the Digest, director of development, and provides assistance to the webmaster in keeping our websites running smoothly. He also serves as founder and president of Vivante Espero, NARSOL's 501(c)(3) foundation and legal fund.