A number of candidates in next month’s election are well acquainted with the criminal justice system – and not just as politicians or government officials, but also as defendants.
In fact, charges of one form or another have been filed against more than half of the candidates for the office of Alamance County’s sheriff, the county’s board of commissioners, the Alamance-Burlington school board, and North Carolina’s General Assembly. These alleged offenses overwhelmingly are comprised of traffic violations ranging from speeding to driving without a license – with the single most serious being a drunk driving charge that a school board candidate incurred more than two decades ago.
The Alamance News gleaned the particulars of these charges from North Carolina’s criminal courts database, which can be searched from either of two public terminals at the Judge J.B. Allen Jr. Court House in Graham. The newspaper trawled this statewide repository for the six candidates for North Carolina’s General Assembly, the three contenders for the board of commissioners, the two candidates for Alamance County’s sheriff, and the six would-be members of the Alamance-Burlington school board. In each case, the newspaper has only included those charges which match both the candidate’s full name and their known age or date of birth.
The newspaper did not conduct similar searches for candidates who are running unopposed or for those who are seeking the nonpartisan office of soil and water conservation supervisor.
Candidates for sheriff
One candidate who has found himself on the wrong side of some traffic stops is Alamance County’s sheriff Terry Steven Johnson.
According to court records, the 72-year-old Republican was pulled over in Cumberland County on July 25, 2007 for allegedly going 75 in a 55-mile-an-hour zone. This charge, which was dismissed less than two weeks later, eventually created something of a minor stir when a Fayetteville newspaper mentioned it as part of a comprehensive look at the traffic tickets dismissed in Cumberland County.
The incumbent sheriff was unable to obtain a flat-out dismissal for an earlier speeding ticket that he received in Harnett County on July 21, 2000. Johnson, who at the time was still working as an SBI agent, nevertheless bargained this charge down from 71 in a 55-mile-an-hour zone to a charge of improper equipment.
A number of traffic tickets also appear in the court record for Johnson’s challenger Kelly Tyrone White. The 46-year-old Democrat apparently received three speeding citations during the mid to late ‘90s while he was living in eastern North Carolina.
White received one of these tickets in Pasquotank County on October 24, 1996 for allegedly going 60 in a 25-mile an hour zone. The aspiring sheriff eventually had the charge reduced to 40 in a 25.
White also received two speeding citations in Perquimans County – the first on May 1, 1994 for allegedly going 85 in a 55-mile-an-hour zone. A Perquimans County court eventually reduced that charge to reckless driving with wanton disregard. White made out somewhat better when he was accused of exceeding a safe speed and not having a motorcycle endorsement on May 10, 1998. According to court records, both of these charges were later dismissed.
The state’s criminal court database also contains speeding charges for two of the county’s incumbent state legislators.
According to court records, Amy Scott Galey, a 55-year-old Republican who serves the state’s 25th senate district, was pulled over twice – once in Moore County on March 21, 2008 for allegedly going 76 in a 55-mile-an-hour zone and again in Orange County on June 16, 2013 for allegedly doing 42 in a 25 mile-an-hour zone. In both cases, her charges were reduced to improper equipment.
Meanwhile, Ricardo Alcides Hurtado, the Democratic representative for the state’s 63rd house district, was ticketed for speeding in Alamance County on September 27, 2018. The 33-year-old incumbent’s original charge of 70 in a 55-mile-an-hour zone was ultimately reduced to improper equipment.
The newspaper was unable to find any criminal charges for Democratic state senate candidate Sean Charles Ewing, Republican state representative Dennis Patrick Riddell of North Carolina’s 64th house district, Riddell’s Democratic challenger Ronald Gray Osborne, Jr., or for Republican state house candidate Stephen Miles Ross, who formerly represented the 63rd house district and is now endeavoring to wrest that position back from Hurtado.
Would-be county commissioners
Traffic tickets, likewise, pop up in the backgrounds of two of the three candidates for Alamance County’s board of commissioners.
Among those who have incurred traffic citations in this race is Anthony Ramon Pierce, the lone Democrat who’s seeking a seat on the county’s governing board. According to court records, the 44-year-old candidate was pulled over in Alamance County on January 30, 1999 for going 80 in a 65-mile-an-hour zone. Pierce ultimately pleaded responsible to that charge and received a prayer for judgment continued, while he obtained the dismissal of an accompanying charge for driving without insurance.
On April 17, 2000, Pierce was pulled over in Wake County for allegedly doing 61 in a 45-mile-an-hour zone. That charge was later reduced to 50 in a 45, and the court dismissed an accompanying charge for failing to notify the DMV of an address change. Then, on June 4, 2012, Pierce was stopped in Alamance County for allegedly going 63 in a 45-mile-an-hour zone. That charge was later dismissed.
There are no speeding charges on the records of the two Republican incumbents in this year’s race for the board of commissioners. Even so, court records do point to a couple of other violations for first-term commissioner William Craig Turner, Jr.
In 2004, Turner reportedly pleaded guilty to a charge of driving without a license that he received in Alamance County on November 23, 2003. Then, on February 16, 2019, he was ticketed in Alamance County for allegedly driving with an expired registration card or tag. That charge was later dismissed.
The newspaper was unable to find any charges for Republican county commissioner Steven Jeffery Carter, the third candidate in the race for the board of commissioners.
School board contenders
Some of the most serious charges that the newspaper uncovered have been incurred by candidates for the nonpartisan Alamance-Burlington school board.
Of particular note is a drunk driving charge that first-time candidate Charles Bernard Parker appears to have received in Guilford County on July 1, 1999. According to court records, the 48-year-old office seeker pleaded guilty to that offense on August 31, 1999.
This 23-year-old DWI conviction is the only entry that appears in Parker’s court record.
Meanwhile, the state’s criminal database contains much more information on some of the other contenders for the Alamance-Burlington school board.
Marsh has most driving charges
The most voluminous record of any candidate in this year’s election belongs to first-time office seeker Charles Douglas Marsh. Court records indicate that the 52-year-old candidate was pulled over at least 16 times between 2006 and 2018, resulting in charges that ranged from speeding to failing to fasten his seat belt.
Marsh’s first set of charges was reportedly filed in Buncombe County on February 1, 2006. According to court records, Marsh had been driving without a license at a speed of 69 in a 60 mile-an-hour zone. Marsh ultimately pleaded guilty to the speeding offense while the licensure offense was later dismissed.
On April 28, 2011, Marsh was allegedly caught going 60 through a 45-mile-an-hour zone in Forsyth County. The charge was later reduced to improper equipment.
On November 25, 2012, Marsh was accused of driving through Lincoln County at a speed of 80 miles an hour in a 65 mile an hour zone. That charge was subsequently reduced to a speed of 74 in a 65-mile-an-hour zone.
On September 20, 2013, Marsh was stopped in Rockingham County for allegedly going 70 in a 55-mile-an-hour zone. That charge was later reduced to improper equipment.
On November 7, 2013, Marsh was pulled over in Guilford County for allegedly going 83 in a 65-mile-an-hour zone. That charge was also reduced to improper equipment.
On November 17, 2014, an officer in Alamance County ticketed Marsh for going 44 through 35-mile-an-hour zone. He subsequently pleaded responsible to the offense.
On December 4, 2015, Marsh was allegedly caught going 77 through a 55-mile-an-hour zone in Buncombe County. He was also cited for not having a license or a current inspection sticker. Court records indicate that the speeding charge was dropped to 64 in a 55-mile-an-hour zone while the other violations were dropped.
On May 11, 2016, Marsh was pulled over in Alamance County for driving 52 in a 35-mile-an-hour zone with an expired registration card or tag. Although the latter charge was later dismissed, court records indicate that Marsh pleaded guilty to the speeding violation and received a prayer for judgment continued.
On January 12, 2017, Marsh was cited in Guilford County for allegedly driving at 80 miles an hour in a 65-mile-an-hour zone after his license had been revoked for reasons other than impairment. He was also accused of displaying an altered, fictitious, or revoked license to the officer who pulled him over. According to court records, these charges were ultimately reduced to a failure to notify the DMV of a change of address.
On January 19, 2017, Marsh was pulled over in Northampton County for allegedly going 70 in a 55-mile-an-hour zone. That offense was later reduced to improper equipment, while accompanying charges for having an expired registration card and inspection sticker were dropped.
On August 5, 2017, Marsh was again charged with driving with a revoked license – this time in Alamance County. The charge was later dismissed.
On August 12, 2017, while Marsh was still awaiting rulings on his Guilford and Alamance county charges, he was allegedly caught driving through Durham County with a revoked license at a speed of 79 miles an hour in a 60 mile-an-hour zone. His charges were later reduced to improper equipment.
On October 10, 2017, Marsh received another charge for driving with a revoked license in Halifax County, along with a citation for failing to wear his seat belt while driving. According to court records, the revoked license charge was later dismissed while the seat belt offense was reduced to the back passenger, rather than the driver’s, seat.
On December 2, 2017, Marsh was accused of doing 64 through a 45-mile-an-hour zone in Alamance County. The charge was later reduced to 54 in a 45.
On August 1, 2018, Marsh was allegedly caught driving with no license through Alamance County, although that charge was eventually dismissed.
Then again, on September 22, 2018, an officer in Alamance County ticketed Marsh for driving without a license at a speed of 65 miles an hour in a 45-mile-an-hour zone. According to court records, those charges were reduced to improper equipment and failing to notify the DMV of an address change.
Harrison drops out of school board contention, but his name will still be on ballot
Leonard Robert Harrison, another first-time candidate for the school board, also has multiple entries in the state’s database. The most dramatic of these is a warrant for embezzlement that was issued in Guilford County on February 23, 1996. That charge was dismissed less than a month later.
In an interview with The Alamance News, Harrison attributed this warrant to a frivolous, private complaint that someone he knew had passed along to law enforcement officials in Guilford County.
“As soon as I sent my evidence to the sheriff or the police chief,” he recalled, “they agreed that everything they got had been fabricated, and I got a phone call from a lieutenant who said they were definitely dismissing the charges.
The 52-year-old Harrison also incurred some other, relatively minor charges during traffic stops – all of which took place more than two decades ago.
On June 28, 1989, for instance, he was accused of reckless driving and driving without a license in Cleveland County. Court records indicate that he was found guilty of the former charge and exonerated of the latter.
On October 5, 1995, Harrison was allegedly caught going 54 through a 35-mile-an-hour zone in Guilford County. That charge was later reduced to improper equipment.
On October 23, 1997, he was cited for an expired registration card and a missing inspection sticker in Gaston County. Both of those charges were ultimately dropped.
Harrison’s most recent ticket was for alleged bout of reckless driving in Gaston County on November 14, 2000. That charge was later reduced to improper equipment.
Unrelated to any of these decades-old charges, Harrison informed The Alamance News that he has effectively abandoned his campaign for the school board.
The one-time school board hopeful attributes this decision to the local Republican party’s endorsement of Ingle, Parker, and Marsh for the school board – at the expense of himself and fellow GOP member Avery Wagoner. Although the party’s endorsements came too late for Harrison to have his name struck from the ballot, he concedes that he felt obligated to exit the race because he had previously pledged to support whatever candidates the party would back for the school board.
“So, I’ve decided to drop out of the race,” he added, “and I’m not actively campaigning.”
Another school board candidate who appears in the state’s criminal database is Avery Harris Wagoner. According to court records, the 54-year-old office seeker was pulled over for an expired registration in Buncombe County on April 28, 1988. He was also cited for an expired license and insurance card in Watauga County on January 12, 1990. Wagoner was ultimately convicted on each of these charges.
On July 14, 2013, Wagoner was allegedly caught going 80 in a 65-mile-an-hour zone in Alamance County. According to court records, that charge was later dismissed.
The state’s database doesn’t appear to contain any charges for school board candidates Dan Winslow Ingle or Seneca Damon Rogers.
See also story on the candidates’ civil court cases: