LEXINGTON, N.C. – A former North Carolina sheriff who pleaded guilty to felony obstruction of justice after he rose to fame for using unorthodox methods to punish inmates says he’s running for his old job.
“After watching all the drug deaths, murders and break-ins in Davidson County for the last five years, I filed for the office of Sheriff. Your support will be deeply appreciated,” Gerald Hege, a Republican, announced on Facebook in February.
Hege says he decided to come out of retirement and run for office after witnessing drug dealers attacking a woman in broad daylight in front of his sister-in-law's home.
“They beat her down, kicked her in the face, kicked her in the stomach, and left her on the side of the road…drove off and left her like a bag of trash,” Hege told Fox News. “How can someone with my talents and my record solving crimes sit here and do nothing?”
In the 90s, the former Davidson County sheriff became well known for painting his jail cells pink with blue teddy bears, having inmates pick up litter on the side of the road with bright colored jumpsuits, and removed TVs and dirty magazines from their cells. All this was broadcasted live on his cable TV show, Inside Cell Block F on Court TV.
He was the East Coast version of Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the infamous Arizona lawman whose harsh tactics earned him the moniker “America’s toughest sheriff.” Arpaio who had his inmates wear pink underwear as a shaming tactic, was also convicted of criminal charges – though he was eventually pardoned by President Trump.
Hege said his tactics were effective – and served as a deterrent.
“I used to have prisoners tell me all the time, sheriff I laughed at those things when I first came here. But (the inmate) would look at those things day in and day out and” it would make them think about their family, Hege said.
The Vietnam veteran also became well known for wearing military-looking attire, combat boots and believed that jails should run like a military operation.
“I run a military ship, military uniform, military weapons, roadblocks and I have a proven record,” Hege said. “Fighting crime is a war. Most people don’t realize this.”
But his tenure in the county was cut short after Hege was indicted in 2003. He faced 15 charges, from obtaining property by false pretenses to embezzlement. He said he eventually pleaded guilty to two felony obstruction of justice charges to put his son through medical school.
“I’d rather have him finish medical school and sacrifice my career,” Hege said. “Now, he’s doing really well.”
More than 20 affidavits were filed against Hege between 1996 and 2007 accusing him of stealing county money, speeding in his famous souped-up car with a black window logo and racial profiling.
But Hege was determined to get his old position back. In 2010, the convicted felon tried to win the seat but lost in a GOP primary to incumbent Sheriff David Grice by nearly 6,000 votes.
“I had some legal problems and I couldn’t carry a gun. And most people feel if you can’t carry a gun, you can’t be the sheriff,” Hege said. “That’s all changed now.”
Hege’s record was wiped clean nearly a month after he filed a request to have the felony crimes removed in January.
“I’m catching a lot of heat from everybody, but you know I have been there before,” Hege said. “I’m not running for the people who have nice houses, burglar alarms, and cameras. I’m running for the people who sand furniture all day, fix cars, paint houses. They can’t afford that kind of security and that’s why I’m running.”
A few residents told Fox News they liked Hege’s tactics when he was in office until he became “corrupted.” Nearly 20 others, including Lexington resident Charles Scheffield, said they will not vote for Hege because of his track record but will instead cast their vote for Sheriff Grice.
“Sometimes you get caught doing things that aren’t necessarily illegal but it’s just against the law of the land and the county you’re living in,” Scheffield said. “…and if a horse has a broken leg you don’t bet on it.”
Hege faces Grice, who has held the position at Davidson County for eight years, and two other Republicans in the county’s election.
“I’m proud of our work at the sheriff’s office and what was accomplished and I don’t want to see the county go backwards,” Grice told Fox News.
Hege is confident he will win the seat this time around and tells Fox News if re-elected he will repeat the same methods he used in the 90s.
“All I’m doing is offering my style of service, and people know how I was. If anybody wants to make a change, a military type enforcement, they’ll vote for me,” Hege said.
The primary election will be held on May 8th.