Sexual Harassment Allegations Sway District Attorney Vote
CONOVER, NC - A big shake-up in the District Attorney's office for the 25th District, which covers Burke, Caldwell and Catawba counties.
Unofficial results show David Learner with more than 61 percent of the vote to incumbent Jay Gaither's 38 percent.
"It's not necessarily who I'm voting for, it's who I'm voting against," said Rickey Rayfield, a Hickory resident.
It's a sentiment echoed by many voters in Catawba County after what they say has been a dirty race.
"Nothing like this, we've never seen anything like it," said Lance Spencer.
Allegations in the sexual harassment lawsuit against Jay Gaither is why residents told WCCB they voted against him.
"He has bad habits, and I mean extremely bad habits. His personal life, bad habits," said Karen Dellinger, a Conover resident.
Former Assistant District Attorney Nikkie Shaffer claims Gaither used his position to harass and intimidate her. She claims he would show up in her office when she was alone, and repeatedly make sexual advances. The suit also says Gaither sent Shaffer repeated text messages. One text message said, "I've laid hands on you and love the feel of your body."
"People hear that, they automatically assume it's true whether it is or not, and then unfortunately they make a decision based on inadequate information," said Buddy Fisher, a Hickory Resident.
Gaither denies it all. He says Shaffer was forced to leave his office in 2013 after she was caught in bed with a married defense attorney.
On Tuesday, Gaither told WCCB he respects Learner and his fight for the position. He also says the sexual harassment suit was just a political ploy to affect election results.
Other residents criticize what they call Gaither's "soft plea bargains."
"I remember back to one person... Zahra Baker," said Rayfield.
Gaither received national attention during the Zahra Baker case in 2010. The 10-year-old Hickory girl was found dead and dismembered. Her stepmother pleaded guilty and received 18 years in prison.
For some voters, that sentence made David Learner their only choice.
"He'll stand his ground, no backing down," said Dellinger.
The lawsuit against Gaither asks for a trial by jury and for punitive damages, but does not say how much.
The results of Tuesday's runoff election won't be finalized for several days.