Editorial: Questions remain after lieutenant’s arrest

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 14, 2021

The arrest last week of a Rowan County Sheriff’s Office lieutenant on felony charges raises a number of questions that haven’t been answered.

Rodney Mahaley, a career law enforcement officer who was fired by the Salisbury Police Department in 2013, ascended to the rank of lieutenant in the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office and leader of the criminal investigations division.

Mahaley also was allegedly in possession of a gun that was stolen and sold to a pawn shop. He bought the gun, a .22-caliber rifle, legally, but he was legally bound to return it after evidence emerged that it was stolen.

Details provided by the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office say Mahaley bought the gun in January 2017 and found out from a junior investigator it was stolen in March 2017. Top administrators in the Rowan Sheriff’s Office say they didn’t learn about the stolen gun until this summer.

Mahaley was allowed to retire in October before being indicted last week on charges of possessing stolen goods and two counts of obstruction of justice — one of which was for misleading state investigators.

While there are still unanswered questions about the criminal case, here are two of the most pressing about the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office:

• Are there any internal controls in place to ensure junior deputies can raise complaints when they have concerns about actions of superior officers or direct supervisors? If so, what are they? If not, does the sheriff’s office have plans to do this?

Mahaley was the junior deputy’s direct supervisor. The reported delay in top administrators finding out about the stolen gun raises the specter there’s no well-known avenue to communicate serious concerns about co-workers or superiors. More evidence supporting this point: Mahaley received a promotion from sergeant to lieutenant in 2019  — before the criminal charges and after he reportedly found out about the gun being stolen.

• Mahaley was the primary investigator for a number of prominent criminal cases and supervised others as they conducted investigations. How will the public get justice in cases where he would have otherwise been called as a witness in court and how can the public be confident in the integrity of previous investigations?

If prosecutors still plan to call Mahaley in court cases, defense attorneys will quickly and repeatedly raise concerns about his credibility because of the criminal charges. It could be a pretty convincing argument for jurors.

The Post provided these questions to Sheriff Kevin Auten last week and has not received a response. The public deserves to hear from him.

In the meantime, the arrest becomes easy fodder for Rowan County sheriff campaigns, particularly people framing themselves as outsiders who want to clean up the department.