Rowan County Sheriff Auten speaks about former lieutenant’s arrest

Published 12:10 am Sunday, November 21, 2021

SALISBURY — Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten says he hopes the public views charges against the agency’s former criminal investigations supervisor as an isolated incident.

Rodney Mahaley, a former lieutenant for the sheriff’s office and career law enforcement officer, retired Oct. 29 before being indicted two weeks later on felony charges of possessing a stolen gun and two counts of obstructing justice. Mahaley is accused of failing to return a firearm that a junior officer in 2017 told him was stolen and misleading agents from the N.C. State Bureau of Investigations who handled the case.

Top administrators in the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office say they didn’t learn about the stolen weapon until June 28, four years later, and immediately contacted District Attorney Brandy Cook, who made a request with the Sheriff’s Office for the SBI to handle the probe.

Auten told the Post the quick referral to the SBI is proof that administrators took the matter seriously as soon as they learned about it.

“We did self report,” Auten said.

Auten also said Mahaley’s arrest was an atypical, one-time incident.

“I hope that people look at this as an isolated incident,” he said.

Auten said there’s no established avenue for deputies to report concerns about their superiors, but he said “sometimes the chain of command needs to be broken” and that a just-enacted criminal justice reform measure in North Carolina, Senate Bill 300, will make sweeping changes to the profession. Among the bill’s provisions are furthering independent investigations of police-involved shootings and requiring early intervention mechanisms to identify and correct officers who use excessive force or other misconduct — including a database of officers involved in critical incidents, which involve a use of force that result in death or serious bodily injury.

But the reforms would not relate directly to the Mahaley case.

“I don’t know what you can actually put in place to prevent what happened,” Auten said.

Asked about pending criminal cases where Mahaley was a primary investigator, Auten said, “You can’t take him out of the equation.” He said concerns about testimony “can be overcome,” but the Rowan County District Attorney’s Office, presiding judge and defense attorneys will need to make decisions about whether Mahaley’s testimony is included or allowed during trials