North Carolina gubernatorial candidate Robert Brawley is being criticized by victims of a convicted child molester for an email he sent to a state prison official requesting leniency for the offender, his childhood friend.
Former teacher John Thomas Patterson of Mooresville was sentenced to life plus 260 years in 2014 for sexually assaulting boys in his fourth-grade classroom at the former Mount Mourne Elementary School in the 1970s and 1980s.
Eleven men testified about how Patterson molested them after calling them up to his desk during class and when he walked up to their desks. One man said Patterson molested him as Patterson recited Bible verses aloud to the class.
Two months after Patterson’s sentencing, then-State Rep. Brawley, a Republican from Mooresville, sent an email via his legislative assistant to Ryan Combs, director of governmental affairs for the N.C. Department of Public Safety.
“John Patterson is a friend of mine and was a great teacher,” Brawley says in the Sept. 11, 2014, email, a copy of which the Observer obtained this week. “Can we find a way to help him? Either moving him closer to Mooresville, where his family is or reducing his sentence?”
Combs denied the request in an email reply eight days later.
He cited the seriousness of the offenses and said his department received requests from the victims’ family members to keep Patterson away from Mooresville. Patterson is in Bertie Correctional Institution in Windsor, in the northeastern part of the state about 265 miles from Mooresville.
“Also, the Department of Public Safety does not have the ability to reduce sentences,” Combs says in his email reply. “That is up to the Clemency Board to look at.”
In a follow-up email to Combs, Brawley said: “My objective is to keep families together as much as possible. But I respect your decision as best, for all involved and perhaps I was a bit thoughtless not to think about the possible affects (sic) on the victims family. Tommy was a friend growing up and we have mutual friends who would like to help but the victims family should receive first consideration.”
Brawley, who faces incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory in a March primary, told the Observer on Friday that he has no regrets about sending the email.
“Why would I have any regrets?” he asked.
Brawley said he was responding to a request from Patterson’s family to move him to a prison closer to Mooresville and that he made numerous such requests for people during his legislative career.
“I always felt if I got a request for public service, it needs to be checked out,” Brawley said. “I’ve had requests on traffic tickets, all kinds of things.”
Derwin Long, 50, one of Patterson’s victims, said he’s known Brawley “for a very long time, and the email is just disappointing. He made a bad judgment call.”
Brawley said, however, that he was unaware at the time he sent the email of all the charges against Patterson. He said initial newspaper reports mentioned only one victim.
Patterson was initially charged in February 2013 with inappropriately touching four male students. Two weeks later, the case had grown to include at least 20 former students and more than 110 charges, the Iredell sheriff’s office said at the time.
A victim’s family member forwarded the emails to the Observer out of concern Brawley would pardon Patterson in the event he is elected governor.
Brawley said he would never pardon someone as governor unless law enforcement requested it after finding new evidence in a case.
“That will not be considered,” Brawley said of a pardon for Patterson.
Brawley’s email drew sharp reaction Friday from two of Patterson’s victims, Iredell County Sheriff Darren Campbell and the lead investigator in the case.
“Me personally, as a citizen of Mooresville, I can’t imagine why anybody would want to have a predator move closer to our neighborhood,” Iredell County sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Amy Dyson told the Observer.
Said the sheriff: “When it comes to child molesters, I want to stop them, find them, convict them and get them as far away from my community as I can. The victims are our No. 1 priority, not the child molester.”
“What possibly could be gained from getting Patterson closer to Mooresville?” asked victim G.C. Campbell, 49. “In my mind, he does not deserve any other benefits in life.”
Staff Researcher Maria David contributed.