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Former Franklin County Sheriff Ewell Hunt charged in Agee case

Former Franklin County Sheriff Ewell Hunt (right) has been charged with misconduct by an elected official after an investigation of how he handled warnings that preceded the May 20, 2011, shooting rampage that left Jennifer Agee (center) dead. Jonathan Agee (left) is accused of killed Jennifer Agee.

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Former Franklin County Sheriff Ewell Hunt (right) has been charged with misconduct by an elected official after an investigation of how he handled warnings that preceded the May 30, 2011, shooting rampage that left Jennifer Agee (center) dead. Jonathan Agee (left) is accused of killed Jennifer Agee.

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Former Franklin County Sheriff Ewell Hunt has been charged with misconduct by an elected official after an investigation into how he handled warnings that preceded a Memorial Day 2011 shooting rampage believed to have been committed by one of his former deputies.

Almost a half-hour before Jennifer Carter Agee was shot to death in the parking lot of a Sheetz convenience store in Roanoke on Memorial Day 2011, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office was warned that her sheriff’s deputy ex-husband, Jonathan Agee, had an assault rifle and was driving to Salem to kill her.

But Sheriff Hunt told his dispatch center not to issue a “be on the lookout” alert to other law enforcement agencies, saying he would take care of the situation himself, according to a sheriff’s office radio call log. He ordered a dispatcher “not to mention anything,” that log shows.

The charge against Hunt is a class 1 misdemeanor, according to court records. Class 1 misdemeanor charges are punishable by jail for no more than 12 months and up to a $2,500 fine.

Hunt, who was issued a summons on the charge Tuesday, one day before the one-year anniversary of the tragic events, did not return a call Wednesday afternoon seeking comment. A hearing date has been set for 8:30 a.m. July 11 in Franklin County General District Court, according to court records.

The state police investigation was conducted after an August 2011 request by Special Prosecutor Michael Doucette of Lynchburg, according to a state police news release.

The investigation focused on “whether Hunt’s actions or inaction, related to a series of crimes committed by Franklin County Sheriff’s Deputy Jonathan Agee, constitute a violation of law,” according to the release.

Jonathan Agee is accused of shooting his ex-wife in the Sheetz parking lot on Williamson Road in Roanoke in front of one of their daughters. A Roanoke grand jury indicted Agee in August on a charge of murder and use of a gun to commit a felony. He also is facing criminal charges in Montgomery County, where he is accused of wounding a state police sergeant who tried to intercept him on Interstate 81 after he fled Sheetz in his patrol car.

Doucette could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Bill Stanley, Hunt’s lawyer at the time, said last year that Franklin County dispatchers misunderstood the sheriff’s order not to say anything about his deputy’s threats.

“At no time did Sheriff Hunt say not to mention anything to law enforcement,” Stanley said. “His only advisement was not to disseminate it to the public.”

Hunt instead called Salem’s dispatch center himself and left a message for a shift supervisor in which he betrayed “no sense of urgency, and he did not indicate that there was any kind of emergency,” Salem Police Chief Jeff Dudley said at the time.

Hunt told the Franklin News-Post last year that he “made a mistake” in not telling the Salem dispatcher his message was urgent.

“I can assure you that both myself and members of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office did everything possible, with the information that we had at the time, to alert the appropriate authorities as to the situation regarding Mr. Agee,” Hunt said in a June 1, 2011, news release. “At no time did we ever have any indication that Mr. Agee was capable of such a horrific act.”

Following the shootings, Hunt won the Republican nomination for sheriff, but lost his re-election bid in November to Bill Overton.

A wrongful death lawsuit against Hunt was settled earlier this month, awarding Jennifer Agee’s two daughters, Makayla, 13, and Cameron, 8, a $900,000 settlement.

Agee’s estate, administered by her mother, Diana Spain, filed a $20 million wrongful death lawsuit against Hunt and Jonathan Agee in September, accusing Jonathan Agee of shooting his ex-wife “five times at close range” in the parking lot of a Sheetz convenience store on Williamson Road in Roanoke. It claimed Hunt failed to act with the urgency and disclosure of information that could have prevented the killing because of “fear of further embarrassment and his desire to win re-election.”

Matt Broughton, attorney for the Agee family in the suit, said he would not want to predict the outcome of the criminal case against Hunt.

“There are two parts to our judicial system, civil and criminal, and the civil side went really well for family, children that are the victims,” Broughton said. “We have all the confidence in the world for the criminal system to get to the bottom of this and do what’s right.”

Hunt has been charged before in connection with his sheriff’s duties.

Hunt was charged with failure to maintain adequate records in 2009 by a grand jury. He was cited and arrested after a grand jury report describing a dysfunctional agency in which Hunt’s teenage daughter disrupted the chain of command, and deputies’ lax evidence handling led to seized drugs being found at Franklin County High School.

Those charges were dropped in November 2010 after a special prosecutor found inadequate evidence for the charges to move forward.

Three other civil lawsuits against Hunt are still pending, including two involving former deputies who claim they were wrongfully dismissed during the records investigation and a wrongful death lawsuit by the family of Chad English, who died in 2010.

Former Franklin County deputies Josh Carter and Allan Arrington allege Hunt fired them because of their involvement in the state police investigation in 2009 that led to Hunt’s indictment on the misdemeanor records charge. Those cases are scheduled for a combined jury trial in Franklin County Circuit Court in December, according to court records.

And a $5.35 million lawsuit filed May 16 alleges Hunt and two of his deputies failed to heed an informant’s tip that might have prevented the murder of the 19-year-old English by Jeremiah Stump in May 2010.

According to the lawsuit, filed by English’s mother, Wanda English, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office had been told by a longtime police informant and others that Stump planned to kill English but did not act on the tip.

Staff writer Jordan Fifer contributed to this report.

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