This past summer, one of the nation’s premier leaders in
investigative documentaries told Ashe County Sheriff James Williams what he long suspected.
There is something unique about the county’s local sheriff’s office, as well as the visitors to the county jail.
His suspicions were confirmed with the announcement that Ashe County would become the new frontier for National Geographic’s newest series, “Appalachian Justice,” which focuses on small town crime and life in the rural Southern mountains.
The series will look to follow the success enjoyed by Nat Geo’s predecessor, “Alaska State Troopers.”
In all likelihood, the series will air sometime this summer, Williams said.
The channel’s latest frontline showcase follows sheriff’s deputies, similar to the method portrayed in the ’90s police hit, “Cops,” as they make arrests, issue warrants and mediate domestic disputes in Ashe and Sullivan (Tenn.) counties.
Ashe County was one of almost 3,500 law enforcement agencies nationwide screened for possible inclusion.
“I think they were interested in showcasing law enforcement in the region and how it’s different here than in big cities,” Williams said. “They just completed ‘Alaska State Troopers’ and were just looking for new ground. They called me back in summer to ask me about it and see if I might be interested.”
From the beginning, Williams vented his reservations about the show and didn’t want it to misrepresent the sheriff’s office.
“I told them we wouldn’t get in any type of ‘Dog the Bounty Hunter’ type thing, and they ensured me that they only do documentaries and not reality TV,” Williams said. “They are a classy organization, and I feel pretty comfortable working with them.”
For a group of officers not used to being in the limelight, Williams said it took his deputies “some getting used to.”
“By the time it was over, they had gotten accustomed to those guys being with them, and they became good friends,” Williams said. “It was a little bit of a learning curve to have someone sitting there with a camera all of the time.”
Anyone filmed in the making of the documentary was asked to sign a release. Those who refused had their faces blurred in the editing process.
“They also did some work with our narcotics division, but the (faces of the officers) were blurred and their voices were altered to protect their identity,” Williams said of the investigators who, at times, also work undercover.
In addition to the spotlight, Ashe County government will be paid $5,000 per episode that is shown, according to a news release. Any monies collected will be posted directly into the county’s general fund of the county, according to N.C. general statute.
Williams said he is unsure if the sheriff’s office will enter into a future agreement with the show that would guarantee a second season. “We’ll have to see about the ratings,” Williams said.
This is not the first time Ashe County was featured on a nationally syndicated broadcast.
In the early 1990s, Richard Lynn Bare, an Ashe County fugitive, was featured on the popular crime series, “Unsolved Mysteries,” which relies on tips from viewers in apprehending criminals.
Bare is still wanted for the murder of Sherry Hart.