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Macon sheriff candidate gets Giglio order

Eric Giles, Democratic candidate for Macon County Sheriff, speaks at a candidate forum April 26 at the Franklin Library. Eric Giles, Democratic candidate for Macon County Sheriff, speaks at a candidate forum April 26 at the Franklin Library.

Accusations of dishonesty and inappropriate behavior lodged against Macon County sheriff candidate Eric Giles have led the district attorney’s office to label the law enforcement officer as an unreliable witness. 

Giles, who has been a deputy in Cherokee County since 2017, was issued a Giglio order from the DA’s office on Aug. 28 and was then placed on paid leave while Cherokee Sheriff Derrick Palmer conducts an internal investigation. 

Simply put, the Giglio order means Giles has lost credibility to the point the DA’s office will no longer use his testimony in court. 

“It prevents me from testifying in cases, which means I can’t make arrests — it kind of puts me in limbo,” Giles said. “It pretty much ruins my career because it will follow me everywhere I go. Even if I leave the state to find a job, a defense lawyer could still find this order and use it against me in court.”

The Giglio order letter, which was signed by Assistant District Attorney John Hindsman, states that the DA’s office has a constitutional obligation to disclose any information that could be used to impeach the testimony of a prosecution witness, including instances of untruthfulness and potential bias. 

“In compliance with our procedures, prosecutors in our office recently reviewed materials and information in our possession regarding substantial violations,” the letter stated. “Unfortunately, in a review of these materials and information, the findings of the committee revealed that on more than one occasion you misrepresented your duties as a law enforcement officer in your employment with both the Clay and Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office in public forums.”

Giles said he was caught off-guard by the letter and doesn’t know the reasons behind such a rare and serious order. He said he’s only known of one other deputy who has received a Giglio order and it was because he or she lied on the stand and lied on a search warrant. 

“I was surprised and I don’t really understand it,” Giles said. 

The letter to Giles is vague, only stating that the DA office committee — which consists of DA Ashley Welch and at least one other ADA — decided that his “ethical and moral breaches” led to the decision not to use him as a witness because the state’s burden of having to disclose his violations every time he testified would be too heavy. 

To call Giles as a witness would mean defense lawyers would use the evidence of his misconduct against him and the prosecutor would have to spend valuable time trying to convince a judge and jury that his testimony is truthful and unbiased.


Comments at public forum

Giles said he’s spoken only at two public forums during this election season, and he assumes the order has to do with something he said during a candidate forum hosted by The Smoky Mountain News and Macon County News in late April at the Macon County Public Library in Franklin. In the few minutes Giles was given to speak, he told the crowded room that he had been the witness victim coordinator and domestic violence advocate for Clay County Sheriff’s Office. 

“Domestic violence is one of the pet peeves I have. I work very hard to stop that every day. I am also on the narcotics task force for Cherokee County [Sheriff’s Department] now. That is one of the big things we work toward everyday is stopping narcotics coming into our counties,” Giles said on April 26. 

It wasn’t until Macon County News published a story about the forum and shared it on social media that Giles said he realized he misspoke during the forum. Commenters on Facebook started accusing him of lying about his experience. 

“I said Clay County when I meant to say Graham County — in Graham as a group we did the largest multiple arrest in that sheriff’s administration and that’s what I was talking about,” Giles said. “It was my own mistake — I made it and I owned up to it and tried to correct it.”

Giles’ experience listed on his campaign website also doesn’t align with his explanation. According to his website, he was a victim witness coordinator and domestic violence advocate when he worked for Clay County Sheriff between 2015-17. The site says nothing about him being part of the narcotics task force while employed with Graham County from 2012-15.

When asked for verification, Graham County Sheriff’s Administrator Yvette Hooper stated Giles did not hold those positions during his employment there. 

“While he worked closely with both our DSS and Domestic Violence Personnel, our office did not have a designated victim’s service coordinator at this office,” she stated. 

Though his employment with different agencies has been shorter stints — a year with Macon County, a couple years with Graham and Clay and now he’s been with Cherokee County for a year — Giles said there’s been nothing nefarious behind his reasons for leaving. 

“I left Macon on good terms — gave my two-week notice and worked it. I went to Graham for a patrol position and then I resigned from Graham and went to Clay because it paid better,” he said. “I decided in December I was probably going to run for sheriff again and thought I might retire, but I have a child about to go to college so I took the position in Cherokee.”


Wrong place, wrong time?

While Giles said he left Graham County on his own accord, information from the Graham County human resources department says otherwise.

SMN reached out to the county Sept. 17 to verify Giles’ employment history. Commission board clerk Kim Crisp said in an email Giles’ employment began April 6, 2013, and his separation date was Aug. 8, 2014.

Crisp also provided a document from Sept. 14, 2014, that gives a clearer picture of why he was fired from Graham County — and perhaps another reason for the Giglio order. 

The 2014 memo from Crisp stated that Graham County would be appealing the county commissioners’ decision to allow benefits for claimant Eric Giles. If he had in fact resigned, he wouldn’t be eligible for unemployment benefits. 

The reason the county was appealing its decision, according to the memo, was because of Giles’ inappropriate behavior involving an 18-year-old female Graham High School student. 

According to the school’s principal at the time, David Matheson, Giles used his county-issued key to enter the high school weight room at 3:20 a.m. along with the female, and they departed the building at 4:10 a.m. The school administration wouldn’t have been aware of the early-morning entry if they hadn’t been reviewing video footage to find out who might have been responsible for a mess that was made in the bathroom and weight room. The school immediately alerted the sheriff’s office.

“Sheriff Mickey Anderson stated that he (Giles) would not be eligible to sign up (for benefits) due to he was on duty at the time that he entered the weight room with a civilian,” Crisp stated in the memo. “Sheriff Anderson stated that his conduct was not acceptable to his standards and was negligent in his duties.”

Giles said he couldn’t remember the specific day this alleged incident at the high school occurred, but he said it wasn’t unusual for him to work out at the school gym during his shift. He added that the sheriff allowed deputies to work out while on duty. 

“Several people are in and out of that gym — half the county had the code. I went to workout during a shift for about an hour. This girl left the same time I did — we didn’t get in the car together and I didn’t touch her,” Giles said. “I’m not sure if I know her or not, but I know most people in Robbinsville. It’s a close-knit community.”

The then 18-year-old student involved reached out to SMN to shed light on what happened that night, though she didn’t want her name to be published out of fear the rumor mill would start running once again.

“I was 18 — I was a young troubled child growing up. Eric kind of was a therapist for me. He talked to me and helped me cope with things I didn’t know how to cope with,” she said. “That night I had some issues and needed a friend to talk to — I felt like I could go to him with my problems so we went and worked out. He helped me avert some of my anger toward the weights. Nothing sexual happened. He wasn’t weird with me in any way. He was a good man who helped me in a time of need.” 

She said the school never questioned her about the incident, which is why she was surprised when Giles lost his job because of it. 

“It was definitely something people were talking about it at the time — small town, bigger lies. Sad when something so simple and a kind gesture is turned into accusations of us having sex at a public facility,” she said. 


Politically motivated?

Giles and his supporters can’t help but wonder if the DA’s decision to issue him a Giglio order wasn’t a political move since Republican DA Ashley Welch has been a longtime supporter of Giles’ opponent — incumbent Republican Sheriff Robert Holland. 

According to North Carolina campaign finance reports, Welch made a $1,000 donation to Holland’s campaign in April 2018. 

Welch and Giles both acknowledged the DA is within her legal right to donate to any campaign she wants to as long as it is reported to the state. Giles said he just couldn’t wrap his head around why the DA would issue such a serious order against him. 

“I’m not sure how anyone from the DA’s office could have ill will toward me when I’ve always been willing to work with anyone who calls me and they’ve been the same way with me,” he said. “My biggest question is why wasn’t I called if this was going to happen? At least give me an opportunity to try to explain myself before they Giglioed me.”

In an article published on regional crime blog Trappalachia, reporter Davin Aldridge called into question the motives of a former Macon County News reporter Brittney Lofthouse. She wrote the story about the candidate forum in which Giles allegedly misspoke about his job experience and posted it on the newspaper’s Facebook page. Trappalachia reported that Lofthouse removed the post just after Giles responded to commenters criticizing him and tried to straighten out the misunderstanding. Lofthouse is married to a Macon sheriff’s deputy who has made a donation to Holland’s campaign and she also recently took a position as a victim’s service coordinator with the DA’s office. 

However, Lofthouse denies that she somehow had a hand in Giles’ Giglio order. She said she simply reported what Giles said at the forum and then verified that information with each sheriff administration he worked under. She also denies removing the post from Facebook in an attempt to keep Giles from defending himself. 

“The Macon County News Facebook Page was deleted in its entirety at the request of the publisher because I was leaving my position, which included managing the Facebook page. I didn’t delete anything in an attempt to hide anything. No one post was deleted, the entire thing was closed,” Lofthouse said. 

Trappalachia also accused Lofthouse of having a long history of showing favoritism to Sheriff Robert Holland, suggesting she had a conflict of interest in reporting on the sheriff’s race and that her husband’s job depended on him eliciting campaign donations. 

“In addition to being married to a deputy, I also serve as the chairman of Safe Kids Macon County, which is under the umbrella of the sheriff’s office, but unless volunteering my time to making sure children in our community are as safe as possible is considered a personal benefit, then I think that doesn’t meet that definition,” she said. “My husband left a six-figure job to serve as a deputy in Macon County. My husband serves as a deputy because it’s a value and calling he holds dear to his heart and something he does with dedication and pride.”

Lofthouse said all these accusations and insinuations about her career and family could have been cleared up if the Trappalachia reporter would have reached out to her for an interview.


DA response

Welch denies that her office’s decision to issue a Giglio order had anything to do with politics. She also denies that Lofthouse had anything to do with the order being issued. 

“She and I have never had a conversation about it — I rarely even see her,” Welch said, adding that she oversees more than 30 employees spread out in the seven-county district. While Welch spends a majority of her time either at her office in Franklin or Waynesville, Lofthouse primarily works out of the Swain County office. 

Had Giles not made the order public himself, Welch said no one else would know about it. 

“Giglio orders are not public record. We would have never shared that information. We hand-delivered it to him and his sheriff,” she said. “Any argument that I did this to hurt his campaign isn’t true — I would have never put this out there.”

The specific reason or reasons why the order was issued is also not public record. 

“The letter gives some reasons but not all of them,” Welch said. “We gave him a chance to reach out to us — to come speak to an assistant DA about it — but he hasn’t.”

Welch said her office doesn’t take Giglio orders lightly. Her office researches and verifies the information they’re given and does a cost-benefit analysis to see if there’s any way to restore the person’s credibility. She said trying to uphold Giles’ credibility in court would be insurmountable.

“We decide if it’s something we can overcome or not,” she said. “These are not knee-jerk reactions and they’re not easily made decisions. We have to feel very strongly about it before a notice is given.”

Giles isn’t the first law enforcement officer to receive a Giglio order under Welch’s tenure as DA. She said she’s issued five since being elected to her first term four years ago — the last one being in Haywood County. 

After being elected and before she took office in early 2015, Welch said she attended a training conference for DAs in Raleigh where she learned about Giglio orders and the importance of DA offices having a written policy regarding how they are issued. 

“So I put a policy in writing about Giglio orders and met with all the sheriffs and police chiefs in Waynesville in early 2015 to hand it out,” she said. 

The order does prevent Giles from testifying in court but Welch says it does not prevent the DA office from prosecuting any of his cases. Not every case would have to rely on Giles’ testimony, she said. 

“We’ll still evaluate all his cases and if we can prove it without the officer we will proceed,” she said. “For example, if there’s a felony assault case, you have a victim to testify so you don’t need the officer to prove it.”

Welch said the order wouldn’t prevent Giles from serving as sheriff either if he is elected in November. She said it’s rare she needs a sheriff to testify in court. 


Future recourse

The Giglio order letter sent to Giles directs him to call the DA office if he’d like to discuss any aspect of the situation, but Giles said he hadn’t called yet. He said he is currently in discussions with a lawyer to see what possible recourse he may have to resolve the matter.

If he isn’t elected in November, Giles said he would like to return to his position at the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office. He’s not sure how Sheriff Palmer plans to proceed with the internal investigation or how long it may take, but he’s thankful the sheriff is working with him instead of immediately firing him.

“He didn’t just fire me and he could have — he’s worked with me a little bit and I appreciate that,” Giles said. “At the end of the day, I always put my faith in God and this will work out in his plan no matter what happens. I prayed about it and I’m doing the best I can.”



What’s a Giglio order?

“Giglio” refers to the 1972 case Giglio v. United States in which the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion stating that prosecutors should have the duty of disclosing evidence regarding the credibility of government witnesses — mostly law enforcement officers — upon request from defense attorneys. This type of Giglio evidence is material that can impeach the character or testimony of a prosecution witness in a criminal proceeding. Once a Giglio order is issued to a law enforcement officer, their testimony cannot be used by the DA’s office to prosecute. 

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