Sheriffs Apology Wont Do, Gay Rights Advocates Say
September 6, 1997
P. O. Box 2138, Charlotte, NC 28233
By Foon Rhee Staff Writer
Gay advocates posed a simple question Friday about Mitchell County Sheriff Vernon
Why does he get to keep his job when the high school football coach he hounded lost
Bishop admitted taping conversations of the coach he thought was homosexual to
investigate whether the coach was conspiring to commit illegal sex acts.
The sheriff gave the tape to school officials, who called in the coach. The coach later
resigned, Bishop dropped his investigation and no charges were ever filed.
To stay in office, Bishop apologized in court Thursday and agreed to forfeit a
half-months pay, or about $1,600. That settlement ended a bid by the local district
attorney to remove him from office for abusing his power.
But it didnt end the controversy.
"How could someone whos supposed to uphold the law break it and keep his
job?" asked Mark Johnson, spokesman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in
District Attorney Tom Rusher called the settlement an "appropriate
A final verdict, he said, is up to voters, who decide whether to put Bishop back in
office next year.
"We have forced this matter to be inspected in the light of day," Rusher said
Friday. "The people of Mitchell County are fully aware of the events that
The coach, who left his job in 1995 but still lives and works in Mitchell County,
wouldnt talk Friday about what happened to him. "Id rather just not make
any comment at all right now," he said.
Rusher said a "terrible tragedy" has happened to a man with a distinguished
career. "Its absurd for anyone to even insinuate that the coach committed any
illegal act," he said.
Though the coachs name hasnt been publicized, its common knowledge in
the sparsely populated county in the Western North Carolina mountains. "The most
devastating publicity is word of mouth," Rusher said. He said one reason he agreed to
the settlement is that the coach didnt want him to pursue the case for fear of more
Once word got out and given his job, the coach had no choice but to resign -- pointing
out the need for statewide job protections for homosexuals, said M.K. Cullen, executive
director of the N.C. Pride PAC for Gay and Lesbian Equality.
"At that point, Id almost be fearful for his physical safety," Cullen
The sheriffs actions only perpetuate myths about homosexuals, said Charlotte
Goedsche, a member of the Southern Appalachian Lesbian and Gay Alliance.
"People assume all gay persons are sexually active and promiscuous and that gay
men . . . are interested in boys," she said. "Its ridiculous. If it had
been a male coach of a girls team, they would not have dreamed of taping his phone
During the three-day hearing this week in Mitchell Superior Court, Bishop said he asked
his deputies in 1995 to record the coachs conversations they picked up on their
scanners. An SBI agent testified that Bishop lied to agents by telling them that someone
anonymously left on his desk the tape of one of the coachs conversations.
"I have exercised poor judgment in this matter and I apologize," Bishop told
the court. He said later that he acted "out of my concern for the kids of Mitchell
County." He declined to comment Friday.
Bishop, a Republican, was appointed in 1992, elected in 1994 and is seeking another
four-year term next year. He said hes confident hell win.
"I feel like he acted in what he felt was the best interest of the county,"
said Mitchell GOP Chairman David Hall. "Still, it was a violation of the law.
Its good to get it settled and get it behind us."
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