District Attorney Ernie Lee

District Attorney Ernie Lee This is the official page for the Office of the District Attorney, Ernie Lee, for the count The mission of the District Attorney's Office is to seek justice by ensuring that victim's rights and the public's safety are our number one priority through the fair, vigorous and efficient enforcement of the state's criminal laws.

Our mission requires the highest degree of integrity and professionalism as well as a strong work ethic as we strive to earn and hold the respect of the communities which we serve. We strive to help victims overcome the effects of crime, navigate our system of justice and support successful prosecutions.

Operating as usual

As District Attorney, I have a constitutional duty to advise law enforcement in my district. This includes providing leg...
10/24/2021

As District Attorney, I have a constitutional duty to advise law enforcement in my district. This includes providing legal updates and training.

This week I presented training to the Jones County Sheriffs Office at the courthouse in Trenton with Assistant District Attorneys Arneatha Gillis, Jennifer Barnes and Robbie Thigpen.

We provided legal updates and training on use of force, search warrants and writing reports. I appreciate Jones County Sheriff Matt Wineman for his leadership and participation at the training. ⚖️
Jones County Sheriff's Office / Matthew J. Wineman, Sheriff

Enjoyed attending the 10th Annual Onslow Dancing With the Stars tonight.  This event is about bringing awareness to dome...
10/24/2021

Enjoyed attending the 10th Annual Onslow Dancing With the Stars tonight. This event is about bringing awareness to domestic violence and raising funds for the Onslow Womens Center.

In 2015, I participated as a dancer for Dancing With the Stars, so I remember the hard work that goes into it. Congratulations to my colleague, Jacksonville attorney Ann Maready for winning First Place in the 2021 Dancing With the Stars and to former Senator Harry Brown for raising the most money. ⚖️
Ann Maready

Lisa Milligan Brown

Had a great training session with officers at the Jacksonville Police Department. I appreciate their service to our comm...
10/22/2021

Had a great training session with officers at the Jacksonville Police Department. I appreciate their service to our community.

Assistant District Attorney Michele Morton and I provided updates on motor vehicle stops and searches, as well as use of force when confronting a suspect.

As District Attorney, it is my honor to work with the Jacksonville Police Department in the strong enforcement of DWI, drug trafficking and violent crimes. ⚖️
Jacksonville Public Safety

Domestic violence is real.  Domestic violence is serious.  Domestic violence demands that the District Attorney’s Office...
10/17/2021

Domestic violence is real. Domestic violence is serious. Domestic violence demands that the District Attorney’s Office has experienced, caring, and dedicated staff and prosecutors.

Thank you to all the legal assistants, victim service coordinators, and prosecutors who showed up to support the Onslow Women’s Center and the fight against domestic violence. Your work makes a difference! ⚖️

A somber ceremony was held tonight at Riverwalk Park in downtown Jacksonville, remembering those who’ve lost their lives...
10/15/2021

A somber ceremony was held tonight at Riverwalk Park in downtown Jacksonville, remembering those who’ve lost their lives to domestic violence.

District Attorney Ernie Lee
spoke the names of four victims of domestic violence whose cases he prosecuted, and highlighted the impact this has on surviving family members and society.

The Candlelight Vigil held by the Onslow County Women's Center shines a light on domestic violence. ⚖️

Bob Roupe

Onslow Womens Center
Candy Brown Thompson

Our Onslow County office had a great time supporting local law enforcement officers at National Night Out at Riverwalk P...
10/12/2021

Our Onslow County office had a great time supporting local law enforcement officers at National Night Out at Riverwalk Park. Thank you to everyone who stopped by our booth!

We had a great time seeing everyone, talking about the work at the DA’S office and about our partnership with Mothers Against Drunk Driving for this event.

National Night Out is an annual community-building event that promotes police and community partnerships. It’s great to see this event continue to grow. ⚖️

Jacksonville, North Carolina

It was a pleasure participating in the North Carolina Chief Justice's Commission on Professionalism this week. Chief Jus...
10/01/2021

It was a pleasure participating in the North Carolina Chief Justice's Commission on Professionalism this week.

Chief Justice Paul Newby visited the Onslow County Courthouse on Thursday as he continues his tour of courthouses around the state.

I had the privilege of speaking about why it’s important for each of us within the court system to come to work prepared every day, to do the hard work and to treat each other with professionalism and civility.

Justice Newby ended his presentation with Rule #1: that we should treat others like we want to be treated. I agree with that.⚖️

Great to see my friend and colleague, Chief Justice Paul Newby, today in Onslow County! ⚖️
09/30/2021

Great to see my friend and colleague, Chief Justice Paul Newby, today in Onslow County! ⚖️

Great to see my friend and colleague, Chief Justice Paul Newby, today in Onslow County! ⚖️

09/24/2021

There’s an increasing number of defendants who leave court in the middle of a trial or don’t return after the lunch break. Contrary to what some seem to believe, just leaving the courtroom during a trial isn’t a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card. ⚖️

It is my honor to recognize Legal Assistant Lori Sanders Haga for her five years of service to the Onslow District Attor...
09/20/2021

It is my honor to recognize Legal Assistant Lori Sanders Haga for her five years of service to the Onslow District Attorney's Office and the State of North Carolina.

Lori is assigned as a legal assistant working with victims of felony cases in Superior Court. She was born and raised in Verona and is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. She was hired in February 2016.

I appreciate Lori's service to the victims of Onslow County and the District Attorney's Office. ⚖️

It is my honor to recognize Legal Assistant Lori Sanders Haga for her five years of service to the Onslow District Attorney's Office and the State of North Carolina.

Lori is assigned as a legal assistant working with victims of felony cases in Superior Court. She was born and raised in Verona and is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. She was hired in February 2016.

I appreciate Lori's service to the victims of Onslow County and the District Attorney's Office. ⚖️

09/15/2021
Officer Involved Shooting

On September 13, 2021, I announced my findings in an officer involved shooting that occurred near Salemburg in Sampson County.

On July 4, 2021, Craig Locklear was fatally shot by a Sampson County deputy after a high speed chase involving the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office and deputies from the Sampson County Sheriff's Department.

The suspect fled on foot into a wooded area and, later that afternoon, a Sampson County deputy confronted the suspect during a traffic stop. Locklear was armed and raised his firearm toward the deputy. The deputy shot the suspect.

I found the shooting death, although tragic for the suspect's family, is justified. The deputy was exercising his right to self-defense.

Sheriff Jimmy Thornton

We remember the fallen, and the heroes, from that day.
09/10/2021

We remember the fallen, and the heroes, from that day.

District Attorney Ernie Lee, who is also a retired US Army Reserve Major, stopped by the Sheriff’s Office today as we were hanging a patriotic bow around our flag pole in remembrance of the twentieth anniversary of the September 11th attack. Tomorrow our flag will be at half-mast in honor of civilians, first responders and members of the US Armed Forces that lost their lives that dreadful day.

We would also like to thank those members of our Armed Forces that have sacrificed so much in the past 20 years in the War on Terror. To the survivors of the fallen, your loved one’s sacrifices shall not be forgotten. We pray that God continues to bless and protect you!

(A special thank you to The Atrium Florist and Gifts for donating the bow.)

I met with Police Chief Greg Warren and Sgt. Wendy Jones of the Newton Grove Police Department this afternoon. We met in...
09/03/2021

I met with Police Chief Greg Warren and Sgt. Wendy Jones of the Newton Grove Police Department this afternoon. We met in Newton Grove in northern Sampson County in a pending felony assault investigation. I accompanied Chief Warren and Sgt. Jones to the scene of the offense.

I appreciate Chief Warren and his department for their diligence in protecting the citizens of Newton Grove. ⚖️
Town of Newton Grove

I met with Police Chief Greg Warren and Sgt. Wendy Jones of the Newton Grove Police Department this afternoon. We met in Newton Grove in northern Sampson County in a pending felony assault investigation. I accompanied Chief Warren and Sgt. Jones to the scene of the offense.

I appreciate Chief Warren and his department for their diligence in protecting the citizens of Newton Grove. ⚖️
Town of Newton Grove

09/02/2021

District Attorney Ernie Lee has announced that charges involving cruelty to an animal at Animal House were dismissed today.

This decision was made after meeting with Onslow Animal Services, reviewing the video, and receiving the veterinarian necropsy report from Raleigh on September 1. The cause of death is considered to be chronic and significant inflammation of the heart with signs of heart failure.

District Attorney Ernie Lee released the following statement:

SEPTEMBER 2, 2021

Pursuant to my review of the Onslow County Animal Services investigation involving Cherry Derr, a dog groomer at Animal House in Jacksonville, North Carolina, I have determined that there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the elements of animal cruelty as defined by North Carolina law. On August 17, 2021, the District Attorney’s Office was made aware of a video depicting Derr, a dog groomer, grooming Curry, a seven-year-old border collie mix, owned by Frank and Emilee Hanks. On this date, after review of the video, written reports, expert reports, and the applicable law, I have determined that the charge of felonious cruelty to animals is dismissed by the State this date.

The incident on the video occurred on August 13, 2021. The video shows several dogs and groomers in a large room. The video does not have sound. Curry was in the back left corner of the video, farthest away from the camera. Curry was standing on the grooming table and Derr was seen in the video grooming his legs and feet. Derr turned away from Curry on the table for a few moments and returned her attention to Curry and continued to groom him. Derr did not leave Curry unattended at any time in the video. As Derr continued to groom Curry, the video shows that Derr begins to move suddenly, and several other groomers run over to assist her. At least four employees were assisting Derr’s attempt to perform CPR and other lifesaving measures on Curry. The video shows that a towel or blanket was placed under Curry while an employee continued to perform CPR. Curry was then picked up by an employee and rushed to a nearby veterinarian who attempted life-saving measures. Curry was then pronounced deceased while at the veterinarian’s office.

I must determine whether the conduct of the groomer violates North Carolina General Statute 14-360 entitled “Cruelty to Animals.” After viewing the video several times, reviewing witness statements, reviewing the investigation conducted by Onslow County Animal Services, as well as reviewing the necropsy conducted by the North Carolina Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, I have determined that the conduct depicted on the video, while disturbing since it depicts the death of the border collie, it does not meet the elements of North Carolina General Statute 14-360. The necropsy report is dated August 31, 2021 and was received by this Office on September 1, 2021.

North Carolina General Statute 14-360(b) makes it a Class H felony to “maliciously torture, mutilate, maim, cruelly beat, disfigure, poison, or kill, or cause or procure to be tortured, mutilated, maimed, cruelly beaten, disfigured, poisoned, or killed, any animal.” North Caroline General Statute 14-260(c) defines “maliciously” as “an act committed intentionally and with malice or bad motive.” The statute also defines “intentionally” as “an act committed knowingly and without justifiable excuse.” The words “torture,” “torment,” and “cruelly” as defined by statute and refer to “any act, omission, or neglect causing or permitting unjustifiable pain, suffering, or death.”

Onslow County Animal Services took out a charge of felony cruelty to animals on August 13, 2021 and Cherry Derr was arrested on the same day without incident. Derr received an unsecured bond by the Magistrate’s Office and was released. Animal Services officers did not speak to a member of the District Attorney’s Office prior to charging the case but did consult with a local veterinarian regarding Curry’s death. Reports of Animal Services, witness statements, photographs, and videos were provided to the District Attorney’s Office the week of August 20, 2021 at the request of District Attorney Ernie Lee and Assistant District Attorney Brittany Smiley. Assistant District Attorney Brittany Smiley spoke with an attorney representing Frank and Emilee Hanks on August 17, 2021 to discuss the charges and what information would be needed to go forward with the continued investigation. The assistant district attorney met with the charging Animal Services Officer on August 20, 2021 to review the documents in the custody of Animal Services and provided further instructions to Animal Services that it was imperative that the District Attorney’s Office be able to review the necropsy to determine the cause of death, whether any injuries were sustained, as well as any possible preexisting conditions. The necropsy was emailed to Animal Services from the Rollins Lab on August 31, 2021 at 7:16 p.m., and Animal Services emailed the District Attorney’s Office the necropsy results on September 1, 2021 at 10:51 a.m. District Attorney Ernie Lee as well as two assistant district attorneys met with Animal Services officials late in the afternoon of September 1, 2021 to discuss the necropsy results. The local veterinarian who treated Curry after his death was also consulted by Assistant District Attorney Brittany Smiley and provided the results of the necropsy.

The necropsy was performed by NC Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory System (NCVDLS) Rollins Lab in Raleigh, North Carolina. NCVDLS Rollins Lab was created by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and is a part of the Veterinary Division. The necropsy was performed on August 16, 2021. Extensive testing was performed on Curry, the deceased dog, and the veterinarian who performed the necropsy diagnosed Curry with myocarditis, interstitial pneumonia, and encephalitis. The necropsy states that:

“The cause of death is considered to be the chronic and significant inflammation in the heart muscle with signs of heart failure in the lungs. Additionally, there is inflammation in the lungs and brain. This is most suggestive of an infectious disease, but a disease was not identified even with additional testing. This was an ongoing and underlying disease present when the dog was groomed. Stress may have exacerbated an already diseased heart but regardless, the myocarditis in this dog was going to be fatal. The lipoma was located outside the thoracic inlet and would not have contributed in any way.

There are no definitive lesions that confirm strangulation or hanging. A ligature mark is the most relevant lesion but it can be missing depending on the type of ligature used, the duration and characteristics of the animal’s fur and skin. In this dog, a ligature mark was not found. No bruising of the skin nor under the skin of the neck was found and there was no bruising of the trachea nor of the hyoid bones. There was no fracture of an of the laryngeal hyoid bone… A small focus of a skin abrasion was found where the hair had been shaved, which could be razor burn since there was no underlying bruising.”

The Rollins Lab veterinarian also noted in her report that “[s]trangulation cannot be confirmed. No changes were present to support that diagnosis. There are changes in the heart to suggest cardiac dysfunction.”

This office has taken this investigation seriously, as we do any crime, including those involving animal cruelty. As a prosecutor, I have an ethical duty not to proceed with prosecution when there is insufficient evidence to support the charges. Based upon the evidence before me, there is insufficient evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to convict Derr of the offense of cruelty to animals. The medical evidence shows that “there are changes in the heart to suggest cardiac dysfunction.” As a prosecutor, I have tried more than 230 jury trials including eight capital murder cases. I have successfully prosecuted animal cruelty cases in the district and superior courts that have involved “puppy mills,” dog fighting cases, and other acts of cruelty. Those cases are often very difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, but the facts of those cases warranted prosecution. Two assistant district attorneys and I have reviewed the facts of this case, the video evidence, and the expert reports and have concluded that this office would not secure a conviction by proving beyond a reasonable doubt a violation of NCGS 14-360.

I appreciate the investigation of Onslow County Animal Services. Based upon the evidence presented to me pursuant to an investigation conducted by an animal cruelty investigator with the Onslow County Animal Services, review of the video, the expert statements from the veterinarian who performed the necropsy, and the applicable law in North Carolina, I have determined that there is insufficient evidence to warrant prosecution against Derr for cruelty to animals. Therefore, the charge of felonious cruelty to animals is dismissed this date.


Ernie Lee
District Attorney

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Fountaintown community center 2113 Fountaintown rd Republican meeting on Tuesday night, September 14 6:30-8:00pm Refreshments will be served . Half/half tickets available as well as a gun raffle. Special speaker on agenda Please come join us