2013 in Review: Sheriff David Woolfork
JACKSON, Tenn. -- This year in West Tennessee, arguably the biggest local story was the scandal that revolved around the Madison County Sheriff David Woolfork. It started with a domestic violence incident and ended in a criminal indictment, with a great deal of twists and turns in between.
It all started on Oct. 10 at deputy Sharon Sangster's west Jackson home. Woolfork said he went there at her request to talk about work related disciplinary actions. Sangster, the warrants clerk at the time, claims the sheriff, after drinking, came to her house and tried to force her to have sex.
Police interviewed both Sangster and Woolfork, but did not make an arrest that night.
On the next day, Sangster was granted a temporary order of protection by Madison County judge Hugh Harvey. It was at this time that Sangster's attorney also notified the county of a pending sexual harassment claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The following week, Sangster is placed on unpaid family medical leave. It's at this time that the county commission approves funding for a private investigation into Sangster's claim, which prompts the hiring of an independent law firm from Nashville.
Eleven days after the confrontation at her home, Sheriff David Woolfork sat down for an exclusive interview with WBBJ admitting his affair.
"I did have an inappropriate relationship with Sharon Sangster, an employee," Woolfork said during the interview.
"I did make a mistake," continued Woolfork. " Again, I've asked God to forgive me. I've asked my wife and family to forgive me. And I'm just asking the community to forgive me. I did not touch Ms. Sangster in any way inappropriate and certainly did not assault her as she alleged in her complaint."
On Oct. 23, salacious details of their affair were revealed during the order of protection hearing that lasted nearly 6 hours. The details spanned from x-rated text messages to allegations of a very volatile two-year affair.
"When I went to the bedroom, he just started going off on me, just hitting me like a man," Sangster said during her testimony.
Shelby County Judge Phyllis Gardner granted Sangster a one-year order of protection.
The next day, Woolfork files for an appeal hearing.
Later that week, the sheriff surrenders his weapons to his chief deputy Tommy Cunningham that Friday, which is a requirement of the court order.
On Nov. 1, Chief Deputy Dan Paar places Sangster on paid administrative leave indefinitely.
The beginning of November brought more trouble for Sheriff Woolfork. On Nov. 5, more allegations were brought to light. An attorney for a second deputy, Lieutenant Lisa Balderrama, notified the county they too will file a sexual harassment complaint with the EEOC.
On Nov. 18, commissioners are given the completed independent investigation into Woolfork, which finds he violated the county's sexual harassment policy and recommends termination. Commissioners also receive a bill for investigation totaling $31,553.36 which is $1,553.36 over budget. The commission votes to give Woolfork seven days to resign or they'll begin legal measures to force him from office.
Despite this, the seven days pass and Woolfork stands firm that he will not resign.
Then on Dec. 2, Woolfork faces criminal charges and is indicted by a Madison County grand jury on one count of attempted aggravated sexual battery, which is a felony, and domestic assault, a misdemeanor, in the Oct. 10 incident with Sangster.
Later that day, Woolfork surrenders to the Chester County sheriff where he's booked and released in less than an hour after posting $20,000 bond.
On Dec. 3, Woolfork calls a news conference and announces he will not seek a 6th term.
"I've not been found guilty of anything," Woolfork said during the conference. "And I said on another, on one other occasion. The only other entity that's found me guilty is the media."
Seven days later, Woolfork has his protection order appeal hearing originally set for Dec. 11 rescheduled for March 3.
Then on Dec. 13, Madison County attorney Steve Maroney files the commission's ouster lawsuit. That same day, Woolfork officially steps down from the Tennessee Post Commission via letter to Gov. Bill Haslam, which is the governing board for standards and training for officers across the state.
The sheriff will be officially charged on Jan. 9.
According to the county attorney, Chancellor James Butler has recused himself from presiding over the sheriff's ouster hearing. Once a new judge is assigned, a court date for a temporary suspension hearing will be set.