Ex-N.C. police chief pleads guilty after allegedly mishandling evidence, attempting to fake his death
William Anthony Spivey pleaded guilty to 14 felonies and one misdemeanor after he was accused of stealing confiscated weapons and selling them to friends
By Olivia Lloyd
The Charlotte Observer
CHADBOURN, N.C. — A former police chief accused of evidence mishandling, embezzlement and drug trafficking has pleaded guilty more than a year after North Carolina officials say he faked his death.
William Anthony Spivey pleaded guilty to 14 felonies and one misdemeanor, the Columbus County District Attorney’s Office announced in a Sept. 25 news release.
The plea comes more than two years after dozens of charges were filed against Spivey, who was the former chief of the Chadbourn Police Department.
It’s the latest development in a yearslong saga that has culminated in a sentence of at least 11 years, the DA’s office said.
Michael Mills, the lawyer who represented Spivey, told McClatchy News on Sept. 26 that Spivey entered an Alford plea, also known as a “best interests plea,” which is when the defendant pleads guilty but maintains their innocence when there may be enough evidence for the jury to return a guilty verdict.
“Mr. Spivey had the best of intentions, but he made some bad decisions,” Mills told McClatchy News in a phone interview.
Mills said Spivey’s pre-trial detention will count toward his 11.5-year minimum sentence.
The charges Spivey pleaded guilty to involved firearms and a fake suicide note, according to Mills.
Chadbourn is a small town in southeast North Carolina with about 1,500 residents, according to the Census Bureau.
In February 2021, Columbus County officials began to grow concerned over missing evidence at the police department, according to the release.
Two district attorneys went to the department and asked to look at evidence in narcotics cases.
“Spivey could not produce all the evidence requested and declined allowing the examination of the evidence he presented,” the office said.
Weeks later, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation searched the evidence room and Spivey’s office. They found bags of evidence torn open and evidence missing, such as money, narcotics and firearms, according to the report. Many of the missing items were linked to cases that occurred when Spivey was the only person who had custody of the evidence room, officials say.
Some of the opened evidence bags with missing items were found in Spivey’s office, according to the DA’s office.
“Former Chief Spivey removed items of evidence and sold firearms to friends, family members and acquaintances,” the report says.
Spivey was arrested and released on bond.
Signs pointing to his death
About a year later, the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office began a missing person search for Spivey after receiving a report about an abandoned boat, according to a news release from the sheriff’s office on Feb. 24, 2022.
When investigators arrived, they say they found a truck that Spivey had driven containing a suicide note.
“Handwritten letters were collected at the scene, along with the boat, that also contained a .22 caliber rifle with a discharged round still in the rifle,” deputies said. “All evidence was collected by Crime Scene Investigators and processed. Investigators quickly concluded that the evidence collected did not support a suicide scenario.”
With Spivey still missing, search and rescue crews looked for him for three days, with other agencies supplying aerial searches and sonar scanning technology. Meanwhile, warrants were issued for his arrest after he failed to appear in court.
“As investigators collected video from surveillance systems and conducted interviews, it became even more apparent that the scene on the river was staged,” according to the release.
Investigators received a tip that Spivey might be just over the border in South Carolina. Detectives tracked him to a friend’s property in Loris, South Carolina, according to the release. He fled before he was taken into custody.
“Elaborate steps were taken by Mr. Spivey to fake his death, which generated a predictable response, namely a massive search which was time consuming, dangerous and expensive,” Columbus district attorney Jon David said during a news conference.
Spivey was sentenced to 138 to 267 months (11.5 years to 22.25 years) at the Department of Adult Corrections, David’s DA office announced.
“Anthony Spivey was engaged in an ongoing pattern of criminal conduct,” David said in the release. “At some point in his career, Mr. Spivey made the decision to stop serving his community and instead start serving his own selfish interests.”
Spivey had a trial date set for November, but the DA’s office sought to finalize a plea agreement to avoid a lengthy trial, according to the release.
“Mr. Spivey’s actions are not a reflection upon law enforcement,” said DA official Jason Minnicozzi, who worked on the plea agreement. “Spivey’s conduct is reflective of an outlier who took advantage of his position of trust and power.”
Chadbourn is about 130 miles south of Raleigh.