Last edited: February 14, 2005

Mitchell County Sheriff to Forfeit Pay, Makes Apology for Tape Recording

Associated Press, September 5, 1997

BAKERSVILLE, N.C. (AP) – Mitchell County Sheriff Vernon Bishop apologized Thursday for tape-recording the phone call of a high school coach he thought to be gay as part of an agreement that will let the sheriff keep his job.

The apology ended a three-day hearing on Bishop’s future. The local district attorney had petitioned Mitchell Superior Court to removed Bishop from office for abusing his power.

DA Tom Rusher dropped the petition in exchange for the apology. Bishop also will have to forfeit a half-month’s salary, or about $1,590 as part of the deal.

"I realize I have exercised poor judgement in this matter and I apologize," Bishop said in his apology before the court and Judge Howard Manning Jr.

Bishop acknowledged Tuesday during the hearing he asked his deputies in 1995 to record conversations they might pick up on their police scanners of a local high school football coach. Bishop said it was part of an investigation into whether the coach was conspiring to commit sodomy.

The sheriff presented copies of the tape to school officials, who in turn confronted the coach. The man later resigned, and Bishop said he dropped his investigation.

After the apology, Manning in turn lectured the sheriff.

"You are charged with protecting everybody’s rights. If you don’t want to, you shouldn’t be in office," Manning told the sheriff. "Do you understand?"

"Yes," Bishop replied softly.

The coach still lives and works in Mitchell County but has declined to comment on the petition. He has not been called to testify.

Later, Manning said: "The tragedy of this sitation is, the coach got chewed up and spit out."

A State Bureau of Investigation agent testified Wednesday that the sheriff lied to agents by telling them that an anonymous person left a tape of the conversation on his desk.

On Thursday morning, Manning denied several requests by Bishop to dismiss the petition. Before Bishop presented his side of the case, the district attorney, sheriff and other officials met behind closed doors for two hours before coming to the settlement.

Bishop, who was appointed to the post in 1992 and won a four-year term in 1994, still sounded defiant after the hearing at the Mitchell County administration building.

"My statement speaks for itself," said Bishop of the apology. He says he’s confident he’ll win re-election next year. "The only thing I’m going to say is that everything I did at the time was purusant to an investigation and out of my concern for the kids of Mitchell County."

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