Former-Sheriff Gerald Hege is something of a North Carolina
legend. I derive a bit of amusement in comparing our legendary figure to that of New Mexico's
, as one would be hard pressed to find two figures as opposite in demeanor and ideals as they are.
Gerald Keith Hege was born on November 27, 1948. He grew up in Davidson County, North Carolina. Hege's father was a carpenter and a World War II veteran. Hege was fascinated by his father's military past, often staring raptly at his father's uniforms and a sword brought from overseas.
On the first day of September in 1968, a year after he graduated from high school and one day after he married Marjorie Geraldine "Geri" Farabee, Hege received his draft notice for the Vietnam War. He was in Vietnam for a year, where he earned a Bronze Star for carrying a burning soldier, who had been ignited by a white phosphorus mortar, into a dirt pit, where the flames were doused.
Upon returning to the U.S., Hege went to work as a deputy for the Davidson County Sheriff's Department. He admitted to being a bit 'rough'. (He said something to the effect of, "I'd jack your head right up.") Some people in his department thought he was too excessive in his use of force.
This excessive use of force was a shadow over the entirety of Hege's career as a deputy in Davidson County. He was involved in a shootout on July 26, 1973 which left a man dead. The State Bureau of Investigation found no wrongdoing. His history of violence as a deputy came to a head in 1974, during a 'small tussle' with a trusty in the Davidson County Jail. This 'small tussle' left the man with Hege's size 11 1/2 boot imprinted in his chest a day later.
The next day, he was called into the office of Sheriff Fred Sink, who is now a county commissioner. Sink claims that he fired Hege; Hege claims that he resigned much later.
Hege ran for sheriff in 1986 and 1990, but lost in the primaries to his former boss, Sink. He was elected chairman of the Davidson County Republican party in 1991. Finally, in 1994, he won the election for sheriff, beating incumbent Jim Johnson to become the first Republican sheriff in Davidson County in over 20 years.
Sheriff Hege has been a source of controversy from the second he took office:
- One of his first acts as sheriff was to order that all the cells in the Davidson County Jail be painted pink with blue teddy bears. I am not making this up. He claims he did it to make "scumbag criminals" feel like "sissies". The cells remain pink with blue teddy bears to this day. He also removed all TVs from the prison, and all reading material he considered 'inappropriate', saying that the criminals were there to be punished, not entertained. (It is worth noting that not all the detainees at this jail are convicted criminals; many of them are merely there to await trial. It is also worth noting that after Hege took office, the number of inmates injured in fights or accidents at the facility tripled within a year. The amount taxpayers paid to treat these injuries quadrupled.)
- He fired 25 people, replacing them with loyal Republican Party members.
- He used county funds to purchase the 'Spider Car', a souped up Chevy Impala which he claimed he needed for high-speed chases with drug traffickers. He spent $7,000 on modifications and spider decals. In 1997, he publically bragged about driving down U.S. Highway 52 at speeds of over 140 mph in said car, a move which caused the department to lose insurance coverage. (Note: Some civil rights groups complained that the decoration of the car was very similiar to the spider tattoo that is given after a person has killed a black man.)
- In 1995, he set up a checkpoint right outside a Democratic fundraiser, stopping attendees as they left. He later boasted that he stopped the Secretary of State at this checkpoint.
- He created a line of merchandise, such as barbecue sauce, t-shirts and posters, bearing his likeness. One of the posters showed him on top of a tank, wielding a shotgun, with the text "Old habits are hard to break." Another showed him brandishing a large stick, with three shotgun-wielding deputies flanking him, with the text "This ain't Mayberry, and I ain't Andy!" and "Do the crime, scumbag, and you'll do that time."
- After the state granted sheriffs the ability to grant emergency concealed weapons permits, Hege issued more than twice the number of permits as the state's other 99 sheriffs combined.
- In 2001, Hege sent out Christmas cards which featured him posing with a bloody sword and the decapitated head of Osama bin Laden, along with the text, "Happy Ramadan!"
In addition to these over the top incidents during his tenure as sheriff, Hege became quite famous due to his odd personality as sheriff, and his penchant for media grandstanding. He labelled himself "America's Toughest Sheriff." His motto was "No Deals", referring to plea bargains which he believed kept criminals from doing the time they deserved. He preferred a black military style uniform, complete with paramilitary boots, over the traditional sheriff's uniform. He even had his deputies decked out in these uniforms, which included a patch displaying the initials 'K.A.T.N.' (Kicking ass and taking names). He also eschewed the traditional policeman's sidearm in favor of an M3 submachine gun. His simultaneously comical and strange treatment of prisoners continued as he dressed hardcore felons in candy-striped suits while having them perform roadside cleanups.
Davidson County came to be known as "Hege Country." (The author would like to note that he refused to step foot in Davidson County during Hege's tenure as sheriff.) He became a regular on local newscasts, so much so that he had permanant lights installed in his office for television interviews. (In 2001, he painted the entire office camoflauge, and redecorated it to look like the inside of a military bunker.) He has made appearances in America's Most Wanted, America After Dark, Crackdown on Crime, News Magazine X-tra, Court TV, VQ Magazine, Match, and Easyriders Magazine. He has also been featured in such magazines as USA Today and the Enquirer. He even had a show on CourtTV to showcase his crimefighting tactics, called 'Live from Cell Block F'. For a time it was the number-one rated show on CourtTV.
One of the saddest things I saw involving Hege was a newscast featuring a video of a 80-some-odd year-old woman being led into a jail cell while handcuffed to her walker. Hege defended the treatment of this elderly woman on a local newscast, saying she was "a criminal like any other." (She was charged with growing marijuana.)
Hege's antics soon left the realm of merely being strange, and quickly became unethical. In 1995, the county commissioner's office removed the 911 center from the sheriff's control after he tried to have some calls rerouted to his office. In 1997, county manager Michael Moore blocked Hege's access to 911 records after he claimed that Hege had violated confidentiality agreements by making the victim's names and telephone numbers public. In 1999, county commissioners unanimously voted for two Harley Davidson motorcycles that Hege had bought without county permission to be auctioned off to return the funds. In 2002, three of Hege's prized deputies in his vice narcotics unit were sentenced to prison for their role in a drug trafficking ring involved in the distribution of cocaine, marijuana, and steroids.
In June of 2003, SBI agents arrived unannounced to question sheriff's deputies regarding "newly reported matters". Rumours of the sheriff's arrest circulated for weeks afterwards. Finally, on September 15th of 2003, Hege's regime came to a crashing halt. First, Hege was formally indicted on the following fifteen felony charges:
Among the charges made in these indictments is the embezzlement of $6,200 from the vice and narcotics unit, and his refusal to investigate possible embezzlement by his deputies. These charges were also connected with his misuse of county money, and his ordering deputies to falsify crime statistics.
Secondly, Hege was served with a formal petition, backed by 67 signed affidavits, for his removal from office. 27 of these affidavits were from law enforcement officials. The affidavits made many accusations, among them the following:
- That Hege had commented that deputies who gave incriminating statements about him to the SBI would "be gone". In another affidavit, he was accused of making a throat-slitting motion while talking about a plan to 'get rid of anyone who's made statements about me.'
- That he had endangered the safety of his deputies and the public by driving recklessly in his Spider Car.
- That he used county money to pay for personal meals and expenses, and also that he used county vehicles to move his son's belongings, while on county time. He also allegedly used county funds to pay for a celebration dinner after he was reelected sheriff in 1998.
- That he engaged in racial profiling. He was quoted by several officers as ordering them to pull over "anything darker than snow" driving through Davidson County.
Hege was suspended with pay until December of 2003, when a judge ordered that his pay be cut off. At his first court appearance on September 23, 2003, he was openly laughed at by other defendants. His attorneys continually delayed the case until May 17th of 2004, when the entire fiasco ended with a particularly ironic twist.
Hege, the sheriff whose motto was always "No deals", made a plea bargain.
In return for him pleading guilty to the two charges of obstruction of justice and agreeing to voluntarily resign from his position, prosecuters agreed to drop the other charges and to not pursue charges against any of his family members. The deal allowed Hege to avoid time in state prison. He was sentenced to two six-month suspended sentences, and three years of intensive probation. The judge ordered that he spend the first three months of his probation under house arrest, and required that he wear a monitoring anklet. He was also ordered to pay $6,200 to the county to make up for unapproved expenses.
Gerald Hege, the former 'Toughest Sheriff in America' is now a disgrace, and a convicted felon. He still lives in Davidson County.
Giovanelli, Laura. "Hege Pleads Guilty in Deal." JournalNow. 18 May 2003 <http://www.journalnow.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=WSJ%2FMGArticle%2FWSJ_BasicArticle&c=MGArticle&cid=1031775513984> (16 September 2004)
Ingram, David. "Hege Faces 15 Charges." JournalNow. 16 September 2003 <http://www.journalnow.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=WSJ%2FMGArticle%2FWSJ_BasicArticle&c=MGArticle&cid=1031771034569> (16 September 2004)
Darnico, Dana. "The Man is a Good Ol' Boy." JournalNow. 13 June 1999 <http://www.journalnow.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=WSJ%2FMGArticle%2FWSJ_BasicArticle&c=MGArticle&cid=1031771052724> (16 September 2004)
Wilson, Patrick. "Affidavits say county money used to pay expenses for Hege's family." 17 September 2003 <http://www.journalnow.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=WSJ%2FMGArticle%2FWSJ_BasicArticle&c=MGArticle&cid=1031771066115> (16 September 2004)