FORMER HENDERSON POLICE CAPTAIN PLEADS GUILTY TO SEX CRIME; TEEN DESCRIBES ORDEAL TO WRAL
April 29, 2021
OXFORD, N.C. — After a former captain of the Henderson Police Department pleaded guilty to sexual battery against a minor, the 17-year-old victim shared his experience with WRAL News.
Tony Randall Pendergrass, 58, had been charged with three counts of sexual battery, but he pleaded guilty Wednesday to only one of the misdemeanor offenses as part of a plea agreement. He was sentenced to the maximum penalty of 60 days in jail, but all but five days was suspended. He also must serve 24 months of unsupervised probation and pay a $100 fine and court costs.
Other conditions of the plea deal include that Pendergrass must register as a sex offender, and he is prohibited from contacting the teen or his family for five years.
The teen said he was invited to Pendergrass’ house for a party with other teens last May. During that weekend, he said, that Pendergrass grabbed and touched him inappropriately three times.
“What he did wasn’t right. It was unacceptable," the teen said Thursday.
He said Pendergrass also sent him messages through an app called Confide that would disappear after they were read. He was afraid to come forward because of the power of law enforcement, he added.
"My biggest fear, honestly, he was sworn to protect and serve. I didn’t think anyone would believe he would do something like that,” the teen said.
But he did tell his mom, who then told police, and the State Bureau of Investigation took it over.
Pendergrass resigned from the Henderson Police Department on July 13, about two weeks after the SBI started to investigate.
He also has since sold his home in Franklinton's Starmount Forest neighborhood, where residents said Friday they were stunned by the criminal case against him.
“It doesn’t sound like the guy I knew," former neighbor Tracey Watson said. "Tony was a friendly guy, a family man. He worked, he came home everyday, [and] he spent time out in the yard with the kids."
"They are supposed to uphold the law, and we should look up to them to lead by example," former neighbor Sanford Allen said.
Requiring Pendergrass to register as a sex offender was the biggest part of the plea deal for the teen.
“Being a registered sex offender, it will be a lot harder to harm somebody, and knowing that really kept me pushing," he said.
During his interview with WRAL, the teen wanted to blame himself for not seeing the signs that something wasn’t right, such as Pendergrass sending him messages. Now, he wants to turn his attention to helping others who have been victimized.
"Take that step [and] reach out to somebody. People can help you, they are there for you. I’m here for you if you want to reach out to me," he said.
Pendergrass is serving his sentence in the Granville County Detention Center.
The teen's mother said she wishes Pendergrass had to serve more time, but she and her son are happy to avoid a trial and get the case behind them more quickly.
Message from Executive Director Laura A. Ahearn: Please visit our website at www.crimevictimscenter.org for news, information and resources in your community.