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Former Nash County Senior Services director pleaded guilty in threat case

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NASHVILLE — A former Nash County department head who’s now charged with embezzlement admitted guilt in a communicating threats case earlier this year.

Michele McKnight, 42, former director of Nash County Senior Services, told a woman she would “change her face” during an October altercation in which McKnight wouldn’t allow the woman to get into her vehicle, according to a police incident report and criminal summons on file at the Rocky Mount Judicial Center.

McKnight agreed to a conditional discharge of the offense Jan. 30, meaning the court would set aside her conviction if she serves six months of unsupervised probation and pays $230 in fines and court costs.

McKnight has pending court dates for two counts of embezzlement and two counts of unauthorized use of a financial card. 

McKnight became the target of a mid-March investigation by the Nash County Sheriff’s Office after county finance staff noticed excessive spending on her county credit card. She stands accused of using a county-issued Bank of America credit card to purchase personal items from Amazon.com. The Amazon purchases’ total value is $3,894.29, according to county credit card receipts The Enterprise obtained through a public records request.

In addition to the multiple Amazon purchases, billing statements show McKnight made online purchases at Wayfair, Esty and Canvas Vow. She also charged $52.80 at the Ribeyes Steakhouse in Nashville on May 3, 2019; $12 at L&L Food Stores in Nashville in April 2019; and paid $13.87 to iTunes in September. 

In early November during a senior center trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, McKnight charged $38.36 at Harry and David, a gourmet food shop. McKnight told county officials the items were handed out to seniors as prizes, but Assistant County Manager Stacie Shatzer said Monday there is no indication that was the case.

Shatzer said McKnight often made duplicate purchases of items including paintings, mahogany and marble framed clocks, suitcases, furniture and other goods.

Nash County Human Resources Director Anison Kirkland said McKnight walked out of a March pre-disciplinary conference about the issue.

Attempts to reach McKnight were unsuccessful. In a March 27 letter to county commissioners, McKnight claims she suffered emotional trauma due to the investigation into her purchasing practices.

“In addition to medical costs and attorney’s fees, I have been unable to sleep, to eat or have any amount of peace while this cloud of uncertainty and accusation has hung over me,” McKnight wrote. “I have been unable to care for my husband or my children. The stress of this whole situation was so great that I was admitted to the hospital for four days from Saturday, March 21, until Tuesday, March 24. I have tortured myself with thoughts of ‘What must my staff be thinking about me?’ ‘What must my colleagues be thinking?’ ‘The commissioners think I’m a criminal!’ But I have done nothing wrong. I have committed no unlawful acts. Even if I am allowed to stay, how can I ever have the respect of my staff and colleagues again when they have all been led to believe that I am a thief and a liar?”

McKnight also claimed she was the victim of a sexual assault during a county department head retreat held in Dare County in early January. 

“Although the past two weeks have been hard, it pales in comparison to the emotional trauma I have silently endured since Jan. 8, 2020 — the first night of the Department Head Retreat,” McKnight wrote. “It was on that night that I was sexually assaulted by another male member of our management team. I have blamed myself and have chosen not to speak on this until now because the last thing I wanted to do was to bring scrutiny to the county. I told only my son and one of my colleagues a few days after it happened. The violation I experienced on that night only makes the violation of the last two weeks that much harder to (bear). I was willing to swallow the trauma and humiliation of that experience to protect my employer — my employer who, without hesitation, threw me to the wolves. How do I come to terms with that?”

Kill Devil Hills police confirmed last week that McKnight filed an assault report April 25, but wouldn’t provide any further information about the open investigation.

McKnight resigned her county position April 14. Capt. Brandon Jenkins of the Nash County Sheriff’s Office arrested McKnight on April 20.

McKnight began employment with the county in 2013 as coordinator for the Nash County Senior Center. McKnight received a promotion to senior services director in 2017, according to meeting minutes.

McKnight’s annual salary was $64,575 at the time she resigned. She asked for a raise in March.