James Henry Wesley Jr., 41, had attended a Halloween party at Dillard Excavating in Sylva while off-duty from his job with the sheriff’s department, a decision that came back to bite him when an investigation revealed that the festivities had included underage drinking and resulted in statutory rape charges against two Jackson County men, 18 and 23 at the time of the incident.
According to the indictment, Henry told underage people at the party to hide from law enforcement when officers began investigating the party. Afterward, when witnesses who knew that Henry worked for the sheriff’s office told him that an incident amounting to first degree statutory rape had occurred, Henry refused to tell law enforcement and asked witnesses not to repeat their story to anyone else, the indictment said.
The indictment carried two felony charges of obstruction of justice, but Henry, who had served 10 years with the sheriff’s department at the time of the incident, pled guilty to the lesser charge of misdemeanor obstructing justice. He was sentenced to a 45-day sentence in Jackson County Detention Center — suspended for one year with supervised probation — and charged $675 in court costs and fines. He will also have to do 72 hours of community service and surrender his law enforcement certification.
Sheriff Chip Hall, who had not yet won his election at the time of the incident, said he’s happy to see the justice system at work in the situation.
“I support the decision of the judicial system,” he said.
Though Henry’s case is the only one that’s settled thus far, his were not the only charges to result from the Oct. 25 event.
Michelle Watson Dillard, who at the time worked as a jail nurse for the sheriff’s department and allegedly hosted the party, faces one felony obstruction of justice count. According to the indictment, the 40-year-old Sylva resident allegedly called a 17-year-old girl who she knew law enforcement was about to interview. She allegedly told the girl to lie to law enforcement and repeatedly asked her where the interview was taking place, where she’d parked her vehicle, who was with her and where she was standing at the moment. When the girl told her where she was, Dillard said she didn’t see her.
“This statement was intended to frighten and intimidate the witness and did in fact frighten the witness,” the indictment reads.
Cody Jacob Scott Jenkins, 24, of Sylva, and Austin Trent Davis, 19, of Dillsboro, both face charges of statutory rape.
Jenkins is charged with Class B1 Felony statutory rape of a person 13, 14 or 15 years old while at least six years older than the victim. Davis is charged with a Class C Felony statutory sexual offense. At the time of the alleged statutory rape, the victim — a different person than the 14-year-old in Jenkins’ case — was 14 and Davis was 18.
Though law enforcement did initially respond to the party following complaints of careless driving, the rape investigation didn’t start until two days later, a Monday, when students at Smokey Mountain High School told a teacher about the party, spurring an interview with one of the 14-year-old girls who had allegedly been raped. According to a search warrant, the girl told officers that she’d been drinking alcoholic beverages, including Jell-o shots, and left the party with Jenkins. They went to his home and had intercourse there, the warrant alleged.
Henry was placed on administrative leave the same day, and Dillard’s contract for the jail nurse position was cancelled Oct. 30. But Henry continued to receive his $37,600 salary until February. That’s when Hall and District Attorney Ashley Welch, who both won their seats in the November elections, discussed the issue and decided to fire Henry.