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Recently, on my onlineradiotv.com site I’ve done a series on scanners (radio scanners) and one of the resources that I wanted to link to was a site called wncps.org…. which, for the last few years has had some great information on Western North Carolina public service department (fire/police/ems/etc.) It seems I rarely visit the front page of sites that I frequent, just the pages that are relevant to what I’m looking for, but the site maintainer Gary Sorrells passed away last March. I’ve preserved the message from a cached page of the site in this post. One of the resources he had there was a history of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s department and you will find that below the fold….
I’ve hesitated to post such large chunks of information from a site, but it appears as though the site is currently offline and given the circumstances I doubt will be back online. So… lest his research on the history of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Dept. be unavailable online… here it is in his words….
History of the Office of the Sheriff
Buncombe Sheriff’s Web Site *(site linked is no longer active – link omitted)
The office of the Sheriff is the oldest law enforcement position in this country. The first person to hold the office, in Buncombe County, was Joseph Hughey, who was elected on April 16, 1792. Sheriff Hughey was elected by the Buncombe Commissioners, which there were eight persons. Also elected that day was John Dilliard to the office of Ranger. Under North Carolina law, the Sheriff, and his deputies had jurisdiction in all areas of the county. The Sheriff’s in Buncombe county operated a patrol division, civil process division, investigation division, detention facility, and other law enforcement functions.
The early Sheriffs in Buncombe County mainly served court papers, operated the courts, kept the peace in the county, and ran the jail. The Sheriff had to post his own bonds for indemnity of the monies that he collected. Each deputy had to also post a bond that protected the Sheriff. The amount of the first bonds is not recorded, but the Sheriff W.R. Young in 1861 posted a bond for $10,000.00.
The Sheriff’s of Buncombe County in this century began with Sheriff R.F. Lee who was elected in 1898 and served from 1898 to 1902. Sheriff J.R. Henry served from 1902 to 1904. Sheriff T.F. Hunter served from 1906-1910. Sheriff C.F. Williams served from 1910 to 1914. Sheriff E.M. Mitchell served from 1914 to 1920 and from 1924 to 1926. Sheriff J.A. Lyerly served from 1920-1924. Sheriff Lawrence E. Brown was first elected in 1926 and served to 1928. Sheriff Jesse James Bailey served from 1928 to 1930. In 1930 Sheriff Lawrence E. Brown was elected Sheriff and held the office until 1962. Sheriff Harry Clay was elected in 1962 and served until 1970. Sheriff Tom Morrissey was elected Sheriff in 1970 and held office until 1986. Sheriff C.V. “Buck” Lyda was elected in 1986 and served until 1990. Sheriff Charlie Long was elected in 1990 and served until 1994. Sheriff Bobby Medford was elected in 1994 and is currently serving.
(Note from AJP:Van Duncan took office in December of 2006)
Sheriff R.F. Lee was the last Sheriff to perform an execution in Buncombe County. On February 8, 1901 four men robbed the United States Post Office at Emma. Emma is a small community west of Asheville and at time was in an unincorporated area of the county. The Postmaster was shot during the robbery, but survived. All four of the suspects were found guilty in county court and sentenced to die. Two of the suspects had their death sentence commuted to life imprisonment and the other two were executed. The execution was carried out at 12:30 p.m. on February 26, 1902 in the jail yard at the old Buncombe County Jail. The execution was by hanging.
The modernization of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department began under Sheriff L.E. Brown. Prior to 1935 the Sheriff’s Department closed at the end of the day. No night patrols or dispatchers were on duty. In 1935 the N.C. Legislature, at the request of Sheriff Brown, passed a law requiring the Sheriff’s Department to have deputies on duty 24 hours a day. Sheriff Brown began a uniformed night patrol, created a Identification Bureau, and purchased sub-machine guns and a armored patrol car for escorts. At Sheriff Brown’s direction a radio communication system was started. The Buncombe County Jail was built on the top 5 five floors of the new Buncombe County Courthouse. The Sheriff’s Department was the only county agency that operated around the clock.
The Sheriff’s office in 1935 consisted of the following personnel. The Sheriff, Chief Deputy, three Desk Sergeants, two court officers, two jailers, two matrons, nine patrol deputies, one identification deputy, three radio operator deputies, and Mr. A.Z. Bridgewater, the creator of the radio system. This is a total of 24 deputies and one civilian.
Unbelievably in 1935 the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department provided not only communication for itself, but for many other agencies. There were three dispatch points. One at the Sheriff’s Department, one at the Asheville Police Department, and one at the main dispatch point on the sixteenth floor of the Buncombe County Courthouse. The system operated at 2474 kilocycles which is just above the AM broadcast band. Patrol cars could only receive and could not talk back. These agencies had receivers in their cars for WPFS, Biltmore Forest Police, Enka Police, Canton Police (located in Haywood County), Madison County Sheriff’s Department, and the McDowell County Sheriff’s Department. The radio transmitter and receiver were handmade by Mr. A.Z. Bridgewater. I met Mr. Bridgewater in 1973 when I was a Deputy and spoke to him about the radio system. Mr. Bridgewater told me that the system operated very well and was heard at farther distances than the western North Carolina area. Sometime during the 1950′s the Sheriff’s Department moved to the low band spectrum and operated on 37.085. Deputies could now “talk back” to the dispatcher which greatly enhanced their safety. However, coverage of the county was not complete and there were “dead” spots. In the 1970′s under Sheriff Morrissey, radio communications were up-graded to the VHF High radio spectrum and a multi-channel system. The main dispatch frequency was 154.815. In 2004 the Department switched to a communications/data system that is on microwave relay towers. Patrol vehicles are equipped with laptop computers that allow for the transmission of reports and other data.
List of the Sheriffs prior to 1872
Joseph Hughey, 1792
James Hughey, 1798
Sam Lusk, 1799 and 1803
W. Jones 1841
Pierce Roberts 1842 and 1844
Pierce Roberts 1851
Thomas A. Brevard 1854
G.W. Hampton 1856
W.R. Young 1858 and 1861
J.R. Rich 1868
The old records are not clear and that is the reason for the gaps. I hope you have enjoyed this brief history. The role of Deputy Sheriff was the most rewarding of all the law enforcement positions that I held.
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