RAEFORD — A candidate for District Attorney has accused Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin of using his office to intimidate voters and campaign for incumbent DA Kristy Newton.
James Allen, a Raeford attorney, is challenging Newton in the March 15 primary for the Democratic Party’s nomination to the DA’s office. Newton is seeking a sixth term as head prosecutor for District 16A, which comprises Hoke and Scotland counties.
According to Sheryll Harris, a compliance officer with the N.C. Board of Elections, Allen sent a five-page inquiry early Sunday morning, along with a screen shot of Peterkin’s endorsement of Newton on Facebook, only to retract it 24 hours later.
In the inquiry, Allen details the proceedings of a Jan. 11 meeting of the Hoke County Civic League, a committee of minority churches. Allen was one of several candidates to present his platform for the group’s consideration during the meeting. Peterkin, a league member, was present and voiced his support for Newton after Allen concluded.
In Allen’s version of events, Peterkin then interrupted Civic League President Barry O. Shoffner’s motion to endorse candidates by threatening the member churches with SBI financial investigation should they endorse the “wrong candidate.”
“Sheriff Peterkin at this point made a phone call,” the inquiry said. “While further discussion was going on among the members, a deputy showed up even though there was no emergency call and no person in distress and this was a private meeting in a private church. Sheriff Peterkin instructed the deputy to sit in the pulpit.”
According to the inquiry, Peterkin then continued to obstruct the meeting and threaten those present until Shoffner “refused to allow the vote to move forward.”
Allen cited state personnel laws prohibiting state employees from engaging in political activity while on duty and from using state authority or resources to support a candidate.
“While I understand that Sheriff Peterkin has the same rights to freedom of speech as any other citizen, the fact that he is helping with a campaign while wearing his badge and using his deputies as personal security at private events is clearly a violation that is worthy of an investigation by the N.C. State Board of Elections and possibly the N.C. SBI,” the complaint reads.
“While I am not opposing Sheriff Peterkin endorsing DA Newton, I am opposed to him using the authority of his position as well as his ability to utilize Hoke County deputies to further the agenda of his chosen candidates and intimidate or deter the citizens of Hoke County from being able to freely choose their candidates.”
When reached by The Laurinburg Exchange this week, Peterkin described Allen’s account as a distortion of the truth and said that he attended the meeting only as a member of the Hoke County Civic League and not as Newton’s representative.
“The complaint that Mr. Allen is alleging saddens me and it is not only false but also totally personal because I chose to support Kristy Newton again for District Attorney,” he said. “I have been sheriff for about 14 years and I have openly supported her this long.”
Peterkin did call a deputy to the meeting, which he said was for Shoffner’s protection after Peterkin advised him that the civic league, as a nonprofit, cannot endorse candidates for political office.
“When I dispatched an officer out there it was to protect the president of the league because members of the league were upset with him when he refused to endorse candidates,” Peterkin said.
While federal Internal Revenue Code prohibits registered 501(c)(3) nonprofits from endorsing candidates, the Hoke County Civic League is not federally recognized as a nonprofit, nor is it registered as such with the N.C. Secretary of State.
Shoffner could not be reached for comment.
Peterkin speculated that Allen filed the complaint due to resentment that he supports a white candidate.
“I consider myself a professional and I refuse to get caught up in the color game because I am a black sheriff,” said Peterkin. “I encourage all cultures to vote on the experience and what is needed and not for the color of a person’s skin. I support Kristy Newton because she is by far one of most professional district attorneys in the state of North Carolina and I have witnessed this in the four terms I have served.”
On Monday, Newton posted on her campaign Facebook page responding to Allen’s allegations.
“I am really saddened that there are those who feel the need to attack the sheriff, because he has exercised his constitutional, God-given right to endorse me,” the post reads. “Hoke County is so fortunate and blessed to have Hubert Peterkin as our sheriff. He is intelligent, competent, honest, and fair.”
When reached on Tuesday by The Laurinburg Exchange, Allen declined to discuss the inquiry, other than to state that race is irrelevant to his platform.
“It’s not about race, it’s about equity in the court system, it’s about fair distribution of justice, and it’s about bringing in programs that are going to help Hoke County and Scotland County into the 21st century,” he said.
Sheryll Harris at the N.C. Board of Elections said that Allen followed the complaint with an email sent at 1 a.m. on Monday requesting that the board disregard the complaint so as not to distract from his campaign effort.
But Harris said that the board will review the complaint regardless.
“If we find that there is illegal activity within our jurisdiction, we will look into it anyway,” she said.
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.