Henderson County sheriff says they will no longer partner with Hendersonville PD

(FILE) Henderson County Sheriff's Office in spring of 2016. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

HENDERSONVILLE, N. C. -- Henderson County's Sheriff says he will no longer partner with Hendersonville's Police Department after what Chief Herbert Blake calls an unfortunate misunderstanding over the use of force.

A series of letters from Sheriff Charlie McDonald and Chief Blake, and a letter to the editor, reveal what led to the dissolution of the two departments' partnership.

News 13's Frank Fraboni spoke to Chief Blake and he said this all stems from his response to a letter he received criticizing law enforcement. That criticism pointed specifically to an April shooting where deputies killed a mentally disturbed woman threatening suicide by cop.

It all began with a call to 911. "She did tell me she was going to be suicide by cop if I called you," said the caretaker for 60-year-old Kay Campbell, who called for help after Campbell became violent.

When Sheriff's Deputies received the 911 call, they knew Campbell was mentally unstable. Hours later, Campbell, armed with a handgun was dead, shot by deputies that went into the home.

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Following the officer involved shooting, a retired local judge, Steve Franks, sent a letter to the editor of Blue Ridge Now, criticizing the officers' use of force.

"I disagree completely with the actions of law enforcement," Franks wrote in part. "The first mistake they made was to send an officer to negotiate" with a mentally disturbed person, he continued.

Hendersonville Police Chief Herbert Blake responded to that letter with a message that went out to his entire staff. He said, "Every point you make in your letter is valid and could be used as a go by on how to deal with these situations." He also pointed out his department is aligned with the recommendations, and his officers have received advanced training on dealing with the mentally ill.

Chief Blake's response in full:

"I am receipt of a copy of your letter to the editor regarding the use of force that resulted in the death of a Henderson County lady in April of this year. Every point you make in your letter is valid and could be used as a go by on how to deal with these situations. I am sure you know though that was a county incident, handled by deputy sheriffs of Henderson County; not Hendersonville Police Officers. While I can't guarantee every outcome in every situation like this with our officers, I can assure you that our culture within our police department is literally aligned with your recommendations in these situations. I can also tell you that our police department has been an area forerunner in trying to acquire advanced training for our staff for dealing with mental subjects appropriately. Thank you for copying me with your letter. "

When Sheriff Charlie McDonald learned about Chief Blake's response, he fired off a message of his own to his staff. He alerted deputies there would no longer be "active participation" from the Hendersonville Police with their SWAT and Drug Task Force Teams.

McDonald wrote that "philosophical differences" regarding the use of force was the reason.

Sheriff McDonald wasn't available for comment on Thursday but did say in his letter that the philosophical differences could place officers at risk.

Chief Blake told News 13 he was in no way criticizing the sheriff's department or its response.

Blake said the sheriff learned about his response when someone in the police department thought it was critical, and forwarded it to the sheriff. He says he's personally apologized to McDonald.

The sheriff says he's hopeful they can resolve these differences and get back to joint operations.

Chief Blake released the following statement on Thursday:

"Mr. Franks sent a copy of his original letter to me, and as a courtesy I responded to him.
My response was a targeted reply to Mr. Franks with a tone of respect and acknowledgement to his opinion. I told Mr. Franks that this was not a city incident; but a county incident with no criticism or no disapproval of the response.
I did use the occasion to define our department to him. I mentioned that our staff has participated in Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training when those opportunities are made available. I said his points could be not should be or would be used as a way by some agencies.
I believe my staff should be informed and engaged when possible, so I copied my staff with my response to Mr. Franks. Apparently someone who obtained the email misconstrued my intent as criticism of the sheriff and forwarded the email to the sheriff's office.
The sheriff may also have misunderstood the intent of the email and was frustrated by it. I apologized several times and explained my true intent, which was only to explain our department's policies and not in any way to criticize the sheriff or his department's policies.
Professionally yours,
Herbert Blake,
City of Hendersonville chief of police"

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