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Sheriff’s office responds to specific claims from anonymous letter implicating deputies

Published: Jun. 21, 2021 at 2:05 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 21, 2021 at 2:17 PM EDT
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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - WECT is attempting to verify information presented in a series of anonymous letters, alleging that a now-high-ranking official at the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office (NHCSO) helped cover up a teacher sex scandal in the school system, and that another deputy engaged in improper activity with minors himself.

WECT does not normally cover stories based on anonymous letters, but the claims leveled in these letters are concerning and specific enough that they prompted a formal response from sheriff’s officials, the school system, and attorneys suing school administrators for failing to stop educators from abusing students under their care. Because of the specific circumstances, we are reporting on the contents of the letters, but are not disclosing the names of the accused deputies unless more evidence is provided supporting the truth of these allegations.

The letters were mailed to officials with the Sheriff’s Office and the New Hanover County school system during May and June. They accuse a former school resource officer, who has since been promoted within the department, of chaperoning a Hoggard High School field trip to Washington, DC, in 1998, and providing alcohol to minors on that trip. They also accuse him of engaging in some type of sexual activity with the girls traveling with the group.

The NHCSO has confirmed that the deputy in question worked as a school resource officer for Hoggard High School in 1998, but said he did not chaperone a field trip to Washington, DC. The letter author claims there is a picture from that trip proving the deputy was there, but WECT has yet to see a copy of that picture if it indeed exists.

The NHCSO also said the former school resource officer has never been suspended or demoted during his 30 years with the department.

In a separate series of allegations, the letter writer questions the relationship between a senior staff member of the sheriff’s office and former NHCS administrators, noting the sheriff’s official and former Deputy Superintendent Rick Holliday were long-time friends. The writer alleges that this official helped arrange a private, in-person meeting at the New Hanover County jail with Mike Kelly, the day after Kelly was arrested for sex crimes against a student.

“[High ranking sheriff’s official]’s actions in helping Rick Holliday and Tim Markley meet their coconspirator, Michael Kelly, in the jail needs to also be investigated. If a deputy was actually present (Port City Daily Article dated August 2, 2019), what’s his/her name? Did [high ranking sheriff’s official] order the jail personnel to violate the American Correctional Association (ACA) standards and their own jail policy by not signing them in to see Michael Kelly? Did [high ranking sheriff’s official] actually comply with Rick Holliday’s request to specifically be in a non-recorded room? This Deputy can confirm what the conversation between the three was really about.”

“If there was no deputy present, why would [high ranking sheriff’s official] order and allow this to take place? Why wouldn’t the school attorney(s) notify Michael Kelly of his termination since he was in jail instead of Rick Holliday and Tim Markley personally making the notification? Why wouldn’t Rick Holliday and Tim Markley interview Michael Kelly via the phone system that the public has to use during visitations?”

“They were given special treatment. This does not pass the smell test! More of [high ranking sheriff’s official]’s actions, inactions, and interference seem to be coming to light as this moves forward. [High ranking sheriff’s official]’s communication with the school’s investigator needs to be fully investigated as well due to the school’s investigator immediately deferring us to [high ranking sheriff’s official].”

Responding to these allegations, a spokesman for the NHCSO said that Sheriff Ed McMahon himself allowed that meeting between Markley, Holliday, and Kelly to take place.

“This is a common practice for us,” Lt. Jerry Brewer explained. “We have allowed business owners, multiple government agencies including the military and other law enforcement agencies to come into Detention to meet face to face with someone whom they are terminating.” He added that while some visitors do sign in while meeting with inmates, not all do, and said it is not an ACA requirement. Brewer was not sure if Markley and Holliday had been required to sign in before meeting with Kelly.

Brewer said the meeting happened in the attorney-client room, where meetings are not recorded. He confirmed that a deputy was posted outside that room, as is standard, but said no law enforcement officials were inside the meeting room. He said which deputy is stationed outside of that room at any given time is not documented.

We are attempting to clarify what the policy is requiring inmate visitors to sign in.

The letter authors also note that Holliday was the assistant principal at Laney High School at the same time the high ranking sheriff’s official was a school resource officer there. Sheriff’s department personnel records appear to confirm that connection. The author alleges that this high ranking sheriff’s official became a detective over the schools when Holliday became the principal of Laney. The sheriff’s office confirms that this official did serve as one of the detectives assigned to school crimes.

However, Lt. Brewer debunked one detail alleged in the anonymous letter: that this same high ranking sheriff’s official implemented a policy that all detectives create Gmail accounts to use instead of county email. The purported reason: to circumvent news media being able to find out about high profile cases, and to get around retention laws covering electronic communications. The author alleges this was implemented around the time of Kelly’s 2018 arrest.

On the contrary, Brewer says in 2007, a now-retired lieutenant directed detectives to acquire Gmail accounts, but when then-Chief Deputy Ed McMahon was made aware of this in the same year, he instructed detectives not to use Gmail accounts for departmental use.

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