It’s not been a good month for Harnett County and its sheriff’s department

deputyThe county’s head law enforcement office was the subject of a recent four-part series by News & Observer reporter Mandy Locke, “Deadly Force,” which spotlighted the deaths of two men and several incidents where others say they were harassed by sheriff’s deputies. The state chapter of the NAACP requested a “widespread” federal investigation of the office this week, and already federal prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation in the 2015 death of a Harnett man shot and killed while being questioned by a deputy (the deputy was never indicted).

The Harnett County Board of Commissioners have responded this week by hiring Raleigh attorney Dan Boyce to assist the county in its response to the misconduct allegations. Boyce is the son of former Watergate Senate Committee attorney Gene Boyce.

“Dan is a former federal prosecutor who has experience working with the FBI,” said Harnett County Manager Joseph Jeffries. “We plan to fully comply with federal investigators while conducting our own independent assessment of the situation.”

With the board’s vote, Commissioners Chairman Jim Burgin said the county has “faith in and support [for] new Sheriff Wayne Coats, hired in March after the resignation of longtime Sheriff Larry Rollins. Rollins cited “personal reasons” in his announcement on March 21.

“We take these federal inquiries very seriously, and Sheriff Coats is committed to fully cooperating with the United States Department of Justice and carefully evaluating each and every allegation of police misconduct,” Burgin said. “We are also committed to thoroughly reviewing Harnett County Sheriff’s Office policies and procedures to ensure that the citizens of Harnett County receive the service they deserve and expect.”