Sheriff Ed Brown considers himself to be the owner of every human being residing in North Carolina’s Onslow County – but he counsels his subjects not to worry, for his is a benevolent dictatorship administered by quasi-divine people endowed with transcendent wisdom.
“The vast majority of our Duties and Functions are performed with only our conscience Watching and Directing us,” Brown explained in a full-page advertisement for his re-election campaign. “Those in the law enforcement profession have complete power over you, your life, your family, your loved ones, your rights, your freedom, your future and everything precious to life. From the very word of a Law Enforcement Office [sic], all those Precious Things of Life hang.”
As the acknowledged author of the advertisement, Sheriff Brown bears sole responsibility for both its candidly totalitarian content and its eccentric use of capitalization.
After the ad prompted criticism from some Onslow County residents, Brown objected that his words were misunderstood, and that his intent was to say that the criminal justice system “covers and protects” every aspect of a citizen’s life. But this clarification merely emphasizes the claim that police have power over citizens – that they are masters, rather than servants.
This arrangement meets with the unqualified approval of at least some of Brown’s self-designated subjects, such as Gerry Theirault, who told a local newspaper that it’s entirely appropriate that police exercise “complete power and authority” over citizens.
“He [the sheriff] has a very powerful position,” stated Theirault, who displays the reflexive submissiveness on which authoritarian social organizations depend. “Police officers can stop you if they have reasonable cause” – which would be a synthesis of “probable cause” and “reasonable suspicion,” perhaps. Officers “can ask you to get out of your car, they can handcuff you to protect themselves,” Theirault continued. “They have a lot of power over your life. If you’re in a dangerous situation, your life is in their hands.”
A more rational formulation would be: Any encounter with a police officer is a dangerous situation for the citizen, whose life is in the hands of an armed stranger who claims “complete power and authority” over him.
In addition to exercising plenary authority over his subjects, Brown apparently can command the very elements themselves to surrender valuable secrets that remain inaccessible to lesser men. While investigating the murder of pregnant Marine Lance Corporal Maria Lauterbach, the Sheriff didn’t bother to collect shoeprints, choosing instead to conduct a forensic investigation using a divining rod made from a coat hanger.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand if there’s a cavity out back and blood on the inside, that’s probably going to be a key location for where this crime may have taken place,” Brown told CNN in 2008. It is also true that one need not be a rocket scientist to understand the value of preserving critical crime scene evidence.
Lauterbach is one of countless victims of sexual violence in the military. She was killed after she had filed a rape report against fellow Marine Armando Laurean, who was later convicted of the murder. Brown said that he didn’t arrest the suspect following the rape complaint because he believed that the murderer and the victim had a “friendly relationship.”
In the fashion of the Pharisee in the parable who provided God with an extensive audit of his righteous deeds, Brown uses most of his re-election advertisement to describe his piety, virtue, and tolerance. He boasts of the fact that more than half of his department’s employees have “prior military experience” – a fact from which those properly concerned about police militarization should derive no comfort.
Brown claims to have conducted a rigorous self-scrutiny and found within himself abundant stores of “Truth, Fairness, Integrity” and other materials from which “Positive Upstanding Role Model[s]” are fashioned.
The Sheriff, a former Democrat who switched parties last year, also insists that his campaign “is not in any way against my Long-Time Friend, the Other Candidate.” That storied friendship must have been severely tested a few weeks ago when Brown called Hans Miller, the Other Candidate, threatening to subject him to a “criminal investigation” into alleged bomb threats to schools and businesses in the county.
On April 7, an 18-year-old named Gerald Jackson was arrested and charged in connection with the bomb threats. A few days later Sheriff Brown called Miller to inform him that the suspect “told me you’re the reason for these bomb threats and the general public is going to believe that because of how it’s been playing out. He says you put him up to it.”
In the recorded conversation, Sheriff Brown told Miller that “I don’t know what to do except get with the District Attorney for an investigation.” Although Brown later insisted that he “never, ever” planned to make the allegations public, he told Miller in the recorded phone call that “I’m just going to call the media in Onslow and let them listen to the man’s story and let them decide whether it’s a lie or not.”
The inquiry by District Attorney Ernie Lee found no evidence that Miller was in any way involved in the bomb threats. Although Brown’s actions constituted harassment, intimidation, and perhaps a form of extortion, Lee declined to pursue charges against the sheriff. Brown now claims to be the victim of underhanded politics by his good friend the Other Candidate, complaining that Miller has publicized the sheriff’s “courtesy call” for “political reasons.”
Brown is probably offended by the impudence displayed by the Other Candidate, who seeks to displace the man appointed by Providence to exercise “complete power and authority” over his grateful subjects. The Sheriff’s campaign ad concludes with the promise that he will remain in his position “As long as the Almighty God is for Me to be Your Sheriff.” For Brown, the will and ways of the Almighty are not a mystery, since the sheriff sees him every morning in the bathroom mirror.11:43 am on April 30, 2014