JACKSON – A former law enforcement officer and rescue squad leader threw himself on the mercy of the court here Monday morning.
The Honorable Superior Court Judge Milton F. Fitch Jr. instead showed no mercy in handing down the verdict.
Christopher “Chris” Buffaloe of Conway pled guilty to one count of felony statutory rape, where he was at least six years older than the victim, and was sentenced to a minimum of 144 months (12 years) in state prison. The maximum end of that sentence was 233 months (19.4 years).
Had Buffaloe not accepted the plea and was found guilty in a jury trial on all counts, he would have faced life in prison without parole. He was originally charged with six counts of statutory rape, one count of indecent liberties with a child, one count of felony second-degree exploitation of a minor, one count of felony solicitation of a child by computer, and one count of disseminating obscene material.
The victim of all those crimes was a 14-year-old girl.
As a part of the verdict, Judge Fitch ordered Buffaloe to register as a sex offender upon his release from prison. That carries a lifetime of monitoring.
Buffaloe’s guilt was part of a plea deal worked out between his attorney, Gilbert Chichester, and state prosecutor Adren Harris of the NC Dept. of Justice. The Special Prosecutions Section of the Attorney General’s Office accepted this case on the basis that the local District Attorney had a conflict of interest due to the fact that Buffaloe was a sworn law enforcement officer at the time of his arrest on May 6, 2014.
In handing down the verdict, Judge Fitch noted that Buffaloe had willfully accepted the plea arrangement and that he would sentence the now 30-year-old defendant according to the guidelines of that deal.
“The proposed recommendation of the sentencing is fitting,” Judge Fitch noted. “There is no mercy for me to give. I will sentence you according to your agreement.”
In his brief synopsis, Harris said the State would have proved their case against Buffaloe “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
He said the initial sexual encounter between Buffaloe and his young victim occurred March 18, 2014 at the Conway-Severn Rescue Squad where Buffaloe was serving as Chief of that department.
“Young people were allowed to stay over so they could train as future members of that rescue squad,” Harris stated. “The victim was one of those junior members of the squad and was staying over that evening. The defendant (Buffaloe) waited for others to go to sleep at which point he began having sexual conversations with the victim in his office. He told her it would be better to have sex with him.”
Harris said the two did indeed engage in sexual intercourse that night.
A few weeks later (April 7, 2014 at around 12:30 a.m.), Harris said Buffaloe contacted the victim, asking her to meet him at the barn located behind the Conway-Severn Rescue Squad building. There, Harris said Buffaloe led the young girl inside an old ambulance where oral sex and sexual intercourse took place.
Six days later, Harris said Buffaloe and the victim were inside the rescue building late at night from where they walked to barn and again engaged in oral sex and sexual intercourse.
In defense of his client, Chichester said Buffaloe had no prior convictions and is a lifelong resident of Northampton County.
“Chris Buffaloe has done the right thing by accepting this plea,” Chichester remarked. “By accepting the plea he is doing several things by taking the burden off his family and the victim and her family, and avoiding putting all involved through a trial.”
He added that Buffaloe was at the time of his public service a well-respected police officer and an outstanding member of the rescue squad.
“I’ve thought about what I would say (today) about a million times for the last three years, and the words have changed numerous times, but the message I want to say is that I’m sorry,” said Buffaloe as he rose from his seat at the defense table and addressed the court. “I ask the court for your mercy.”
The now 17-year-old victim, joined by her mother and father, also stood before the court to be heard. Judge Fitch asked each if they were satisfied with the plea arrangement and verdict, to which all answered affirmatively.
“It’s been a strain on our family and his family,” said the victim’s father, Alan Burgess. “I trusted Chris; he was a good friend of mine.
“We live in a very small town and this crime caused major talk about our whole family for a very long time,” Mr. Burgess added. “We heard a lot of terrible things about our daughter and about us as parents. My wife didn’t want to leave home; my daughter felt isolated and I was worried about her state of mind; and my trust in almost everything was broken. There was a huge wave of stress on our family.”
Mr. Burgess also mentioned the fact that Buffaloe was not only a police officer and rescue squad captain, but a youth leader in the church that his family attended.
“If we couldn’t trust him, who could we trust,” he stressed. “He took advantage of that and took advantage of our daughter. While he was out on bond and enjoying life, our lives were under a microscope. Our daughter’s high school years were ruined.
“I don’t feel any amount of punishment will ever be enough, but he must pay for what he did to our daughter, to our family, and to our town,” the father concluded.
Mr. Burgess also read a statement written by his daughter.
“After this all came out, none of my friends talked to me; I became an outcast in my own town,” the father read from his daughter’s words. “I cried a lot. My family was torn apart with anger and grief. My mom was so upset that it damaged our relationship. My whole high school career was surrounded by this case for three years. I was never able to move on with my life due this case.”
Then, directing his attention to Buffaloe, Mr. Burgess remarked, “Chris, I forgive you. I can honestly say that.”
“I’m sorry this has happened to your daughter, but now I’m glad that it has come to a conclusion,” Judge Fitch stated. “I hope that your daughter will be able to pick the pieces and move on. I hope somehow in her own mind and in her own heart she’ll be able to do what you (Mr. Burgess) have done and that is to forgive him.”
Judge Fitch then turned Buffaloe over to the Northampton County Sheriff’s deputies in the courtroom. From there he will be transferred into the custody of the North Carolina Department of Corrections. It is not known where he will serve his sentence.
Prior to his arrest, Buffaloe worked with several law enforcement agencies in Northampton and Halifax counties throughout his career, to include the Seaboard Police Department, and was a noted canine handler and trainer. He was named in January of 2010 as the Captain of Conway-Severn Rescue Squad, an entity that offers a Juniors (ages 14-17) program in an effort to get young people interested in becoming the next generation of EMT’s. He was removed as Rescue Squad Captain following his arrest.