Red Springs police chief and town manager charged with unlawful removal of records

Red Springs police chief and town manager charged with unlawful removal of records
Left: Red Springs Police Chief Ronnie Patterson, Right: Red Springs Town Manager David Ashburn (SOURCE: RCSO) (Source: SOURCE: RCSO)

ROBESON COUNTY, NC (WMBF) - The Red Springs Police Chief and the town manager both face a series of charges following a four month criminal investigation into the unlawful removal and disposal of personnel records from the Red Springs Town Hall.

According to a press release, Red Springs Police Chief Ronnie Patterson was charged with 10 counts of unlawful disposal of public records, 10 counts of unlawful removal of public records, and 10 counts of conspiracy to commit removal of public records.

Red Springs Town Manager David Ashburn was charged with 10 counts of unlawful removal of public records and 10 counts of conspiracy to commit removal of public records.

The investigation was conducted by Investigator Erich Hackney of the Robeson County District Attorney’s Office.

The release says that specific records relative to these violations include:

1. The sexual harassment investigative file on Welton Laranza Patterson (Ronnie Patterson) and Corena Locklear, a former employee of the Town of Red Springs, which includes case settlement information.

2. Documentation relative to the polygraph examination administered to Welton Laranza Patterson indicating ‘clear, consistent and remarkable physiological criteria indicative of deception’ in the sexual harassment investigation of Corena Locklear, a former employee of the Town of Red Springs.

3. Investigative file documentation relating to two (2) felonies of Accessory Before the Fact and Aiding and Abetting which were committed by Welton Laranza Patterson relative to a fraudulent Worker’s Compensation claim filed on behalf of Luke Humphrey, a former employee of the Town of Red Springs.

4. Documentation relative to the polygraph examination administered to Welton Laranza Patterson indicating ‘clear, consistent and remarkable physiological criteria indicative of deception’ in the case of two (2) felonies of Accessory Before the Fact and Aiding and Abetting which were committed by Welton Laranza Patterson relative to a fraudulent Worker’s Compensation claim filed on behalf of Luke Humphrey, a former employee of the Town of Red Springs.

5. Investigative file documentation relating to obstruction of justice committed by Welton Laranza Patterson relating to an investigation involving the United States Department of Justice; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

6. Documentation relative to the polygraph examination administered to Welton Laranza Patterson in which he indicated deception in a case of obstruction of justice committed by Welton Laranza Patterson relating to an investigation involving the United States Department of Justice; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

7. Federal litigation documents and court records in the case of Alma J. Brown, Administratrix of the Estate of Joseph Anthony Brown, plaintiff, versus Welton Laranza Patterson, individually and in his official capacity; and the Town of Red Springs, defendants, said case heard in United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

8. Records and documentation relating to complaints, investigations, actions, summary and disposition relating to disputed employee grievances against the Town of Red Springs, said employee being Welton Laranza Patterson.

9. Records and documentation relating to attorney - client communications regarding Welton Laranza Patterson’s separation from employment by the Town of Red Springs.

10. Records and documentation from both the Town of Red Springs as well as the North Carolina Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission relative to Welton Laranza Patterson’s separation from employment by the Town of Red Springs.

In addition, the investigation revealed that Patterson had previously rented three (3) storage units at Highway 211 Mini Storage Unit in Red Springs. When his past due rental fees reached $3,151.00, the content of his units were sold.

The investigation further revealed the identity of the person who took possession of items within the units. Among the items discovered were crime scene photos, firearms, narcotics, photos of various nude women, fingerprint files, criminal investigative files, handcuffs, ammunition, as well as the sexual harassment file relating to former employee Corena Locklear. This is the same file that surfaced during Patterson’s campaign for Sheriff which received widespread media coverage.

Hackney served Orders For Arrest on both Ashburn and Patterson today which were issued by the Robeson County Clerk of Superior Court’s Office after the Grand Jury session. Both were processed before a magistrate and allowed to sign written promises to appear on their charges in Robeson County Superior Court on October 1, 2018.

This investigation was requested by former Red Springs Mayor John McNeill when portions of Patterson’s personnel file surfaced during his recent election campaign for Sheriff of Robeson County. As a result of McNeill’s request which alleged that personnel files had been removed from the town’s human resources department, an investigation was ordered by Robeson County District Attorney L. Johnson Britt, III to determine if in fact any wrongdoing had occurred.

The investigation reached Dunn, Southport, Bladenboro, Lilesville, Raleigh, Fayetteville and Lumberton and culminated on May 4, 2018 when Hackney served a search warrant on Red Springs Town Hall for all files and records relating to Patterson. Included in the search warrant were two (2) large Banker’s boxes that had been secured in the town’s vault for years which were full of documentation pertaining to Patterson.

The investigation revealed that these two Banker’s boxes were removed from the vault during Patterson’s election campaign by Ashburn in violation of the North Carolina Records Retention and Disposition Schedule. This schedule is governed by state law and compiled by the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and Records, which requires certain records to be retained for specific periods of time and that after the prescribed time period, may be disposed of in only one of four (4) ways. Giving records of this nature to a current employee is not allowed by law. The investigation found that these documents were unlawfully removed from Town Hall between January 1, 2018 and February 28, 2018 by both Ashburn and Patterson. State law further prohibits town managers from having access to employee personnel records unless there is an open investigation.

Note: “Public Records” as defined for these offenses means: Documentary material made or received pursuant to law in connection with the transaction of public business by an agency of North Carolina government, to wit: Town of Red Springs. (It does not have the usual literal meaning of ‘public records’ which are available for inspection by anyone who may make a request.)

The investigation continues with additional arrests possible.

(The above information was provided in a press release from Erich Von Hackney of the Robeson County District Attorney’s Office)

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