Sheriff without a gun

by Jim Longworth

In an episode of “TheAndy Griffith Show”, aHollywood producer makesa movie about a sherifffrom North Carolina whodoesn’t carry a sidearm.The title of the fictionalfilm was Sheriff Without aGun. Now, 40 years later,life could imitate art ifformer Davidson Countysheriff Gerald Hege wins his old job back.In his day, Hege was a made-for-TVlawman. He put chain gangs back to work.He removed TVs and other amenities fromthe jail. He painted jail cells pink with cryingblue teddy bears as a way to humiliateprisoners. And he also painted his squad carto look like a spider who catches criminalsin its web. It’s no wonder that Hege was amedia darling. He appeared regularly on“America’s Most Wanted,” and becamethe star of Court TV’s “Inside Cell BlockF.” Hege also had his patrol cars outfittedwith license plates which proclaimed “NoDeals”. He reveled in his role as America’sToughest Sheriff.All that came to an end in 2004 whenHege was charged with 15 felony counts,which ranged from embezzlement toobtaining property by false pretenses. Inthe end, the sheriff who never made dealswith criminals made one for himself, andpleaded to two counts dealing with obstructionof justice for covering up missingmonies from the vice and narcotics unit.The other 13 counts were dismissed, andhe avoided prison time, serving just threeyears probation.Now, the one-time sheriff wants to returnto crime fighting, and that doesn’t set toowell with some of his former counterpartsin other jurisdictions. Last week, the NCSheriffs Association came out in supportof Senate Bill 351. The bill proposed bySen. Stan Bingham would prohibit a felonfrom running for sheriff. If passed, the lawwould not affect Hege or five other felonswho are currently seeking office. Amongthem are Avery County’s Nub Taylor whoonce pleaded guilty to obstruction charges;Mark Stewart in McDowell County, whowas convicted of selling drugs; formerWashington County Sheriff Stanley Joneswho served time for embezzlement; andDavid Morrow of Cleveland County whohad a drug conviction more than 20 yearsago.Still, there are several reasons why SB351 should pass. First, a felon turned sheriffdoesn’t have much credibility when itcomes to urging young folks to stay on thestraight and narrow. A lecture on how crimedoesn’t pay would seem disingenuous.Second, our existing laws contradict eachother. For example, a sheriff is not allowedto hire a felon as his deputy, but the sheriffhimself can be a felon. Finally, a convictedfelon is prohibited from carrying a firearm,which means if Hege were to reclaimhis old job, he could become a target forhardcore criminals such as the mafia drugdealers he once claimed had a contract hitout on him.Gerald Hege is, among other things, astudy in contrasts. He was accused of racialprofiling, yet claims he was responsiblefor bullying no less than eight Ku KluxKlansmen into hanging up their robes. Hewas accused of misappropriating funds, yethis spider car merchandising raised a tonof money for local charities. That’s why Iam ambivalent about his candidacy and, tosome degree, about the proposed legislation.For now, though, I am most concernedabout the possibility of a man gettingelected sheriff, knowing that he wouldn’tbe able to wear a sidearm.True enough, sheriffs are mainly administrators,but in addition to not being able toprotect himself, he would be of little use toa civilian in distress should he happen upona dangerous situation.Andy Taylor chose not to wear a gunbecause there was no serious crime inMayberry, but Gerald Hege is prohibitedfrom carrying a gun because he committeda serious crime. Moreover, DavidsonCounty is not Mayberry circa 1960. 2010is a dangerous place, and it is no longer agood idea for a sheriff to try and keep thepeace, without a piece.Jim Longworth is the host of “TriadToday,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m.on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundaysat 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel15). !