Barber a suspect in shoplifting of wine

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 5, 2011

By Shelley Smith and Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — Rowan County Commissioner Jon Barber is the subject of an SBI investigation related to the April 10 theft of a bottle of wine from a local convenience store, the SBI told the Post Wednesday.
As first reported on Wednesday afternoon, a police report said the investigation involves a $2.99 bottle of wine stolen around 6 a.m. April 10 — a Sunday morning — from the Rushco store at 601 W. Jake Alexander Blvd.
Salisbury Police Chief Rory Collins said the officer who responded to take the report saw a surveillance video of the incident. The officer showed the video to his supervisor, and “it was determined the suspect appeared to be Jon Barber,” Collins said.
The officer then presented the evidence to District Attorney Brandy Cook, Collins said, and Cook decided it was best for the SBI to conduct the investigation.
“It was not a decision (made) together,” Collins said. “But I actually do concur with her decision.”
Collins said Cook called on the SBI to investigate because Barber is a public official and his brother is a former law enforcement officer, and also “in order to not have any appearance of conflict.”
Cook confirmed Wednesday that she asked the SBI to investigate but would provide no other details.
Barber did not return telephone messages or emails from the Post on Wednesday.
Barber’s fellow board members said Wednesday they are reserving judgment until the investigation is complete.
Chad Mitchell, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, called the investigation “surprising” and a “horrible situation.”
“Obviously the accusation itself is somewhat troubling, but I don’t want to rush to judgment, particularly not knowing if they’re going to bring charges or not,” Mitchell said.
The SBI’s involvement, Mitchell said, was “probably best … because it could put the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office or even a municipal police department in a bad situation.”
Even if Barber were charged and convicted, Mitchell noted, county commissioners can only be required to resign if convicted of a felony. The larceny of a bottle of wine is a misdemeanor.
The only other option for the board is to censure, or officially rebuke, a commissioner, Mitchell said. And up until September 2010 when the board adopted a new ethics code, required by the state, the county code of ethics did not specify a formal method of censure.
Mitchell said he doesn’t want to speculate about whether or not the board would censure Barber if he is charged and found guilty.
Commissioner Jim Sides also declined to give an opinion about whether Barber should resign or be censured.
“Jon is my friend and fellow commissioner,” Sides said. “If he has a problem, I want him to recognize it and take care of it. … But this appears to me to be an allegation, and I’m not sure what’s true and what’s not. I hope it’s not true.”
Commissioner Raymond Coltrain also said he didn’t want to jump to any conclusions.
“Until more information comes along, I’m going to reserve my opinion because I don’t have one,” he said.
Commissioner Carl Ford was not available for comment.
The April 10 incident isn’t the first time Barber — who won re-election in November — has faced possible criminal charges.
Former District Attorney Bill Kenerly considered charges after Barber allegedly showed up drunk to his sixth-grade classroom at Southeast Middle School the morning of May 19, 2010.
Barber resigned from his teaching job with the Rowan-Salisbury School System the next day.
Barber told the Post at the time he left the school early that day and told administrators he was resigning “to pursue other opportunities.” He has since begun farming in western Rowan.
He subsequently admitted to battling with alcoholism but has not publicly elaborated or changed his story about what happened that day at Southeast Middle.
Multiple sources told the Post, however, that Barber was removed from his classroom by Southeast Principal Skip Kraft because of suspicion that he was drunk. Students were preparing to take end-of-grade tests when the incident occurred.
Kenerly said in June that Barber “was escorted from the premises of Southeast Middle School and subsequently resigned.” Kenerly said, however, that there were no criminal violations involving students and that Barber could not be “successfully prosecuted” for other crimes based on blood-alcohol test results obtained by the Rowan-Salisbury School System.
Barber pleaded guilty to driving while impaired in June 2008 after being found in February of that year passed out in his car near the corner of Sherrills Ford and Long Branch roads. His blood-alcohol content measured .18, more than double the legal limit of .08.
Contact reporter Shelley Smith at 704-797-4246. Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.