Indictment: Police took part in home invasion
WTVD News by Gilbert Baez - May 5, 2009
SPRING LAKE (WTVD), North Carolina -- Grand jury indictments made public Tuesday outlined explosive allegations against two Spring Lake police officers - including that one is accused of an armed home invasion. Spring Lake is a small community of about 8,000 located between Fayetteville and Raleigh. The corruption allegations have rocked the town and forced the local sheriff to take control of the police department. North Carolina's State Bureau of Investigation arrested Sgt. Alphonzo Devonne Whittington, Jr. and Sgt. Darryl Eugene Coulter, Sr. on Monday. Coulter, 43, is being held at the Cumberland County Jail under $250,000 bond. He is charged with; 2 counts of felony obstruction of justice, 3 counts of second degree kidnapping (a felony), 1 count of felony breaking and entering, 2 counts of willful failure to discharge duty (a misdemeanor), 3 counts of simple assault (a misdemeanor), 3 counts of assault with a deadly weapon (a misdemeanor), 3 counts of assault by pointing a gun (a misdemeanor), and 3 counts of false imprisonment (a misdemeanor).
According to a grand jury indictment, the charges stem from an April 27, 2008, incident at a home on the 400 block of Vass Road. Coulter allegedly broke into the home and assaulted three men. He forced them from the home with a handgun and a shotgun, kidnapped them, and then held them against their will by handcuffing them. Coulter was supervising three other officers at the time and allegedly had no legal justification for what happened. The indictments also allege that Coulter lied when he said he smelled marijuana during an investigation at local motel. Officers took $2,900 in cash from the room, and Sgt. Wittington is accused of later taking that cash from the department's evidence room. Whittington, 32, is being held at the Cumberland County Jail under $100,000 bond. He is charged with; 1 count of felony embezzlement, 1 count of obtaining property by false pretense, 3 counts of felony larceny, 3 counts of felony obstruction of justice, 2 counts of willful failure to discharge duty (a misdemeanor), and 1 count of solicitation to commit a felony (a misdemeanor). Officials say future indictments and arrests are likely. The arrests are the result of an ongoing investigation by the SBI that began in 2007. The investigation was initiated at the request of the Cumberland County District Attorney.
Eyewitness News has learned the DA plans to dismiss more than 1000 misdemeanor cases, because he suspects some senior officers lied and fabricated facts in police reports. "I think we have an ongoing investigation so I can't comment on the specifics, but I think the facts speak for themselves," District Attorney Ed Grannis said. It was also announced Monday that the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office has taken control of the police department. Cumberland was already handling many of Spring Lake's cases because it lost its felony investigative powers 18 months ago. That came after problems with the investigation into the death of 3-year-old Anikah Burr. Prosecutors say she was murdered by her mother's boyfriend in 2006. The case has yet to come to trial. Cumberland County Sheriff Moose Butler has told Eyewitness News in past interviews that taking on Spring Lake's cases has put a strain on his department. He's asked county commissioners to increase his funding to cover the additional expenses.
Tuesday, Jeannette M. Council, Chairman of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners, issued a statement: "In view of the developments yesterday affecting the Spring Lake Police Department, I have contacted the Spring Lake Mayor and the Sheriff to assure them that the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners will support the Sheriff's Office in providing law enforcement protection to the citizens of Spring Lake during a limited transition period of approximately 30 days. The Commissioners urge the leaders of Spring Lake to contract with the Sheriff to provide basic law enforcement services to Spring Lake until the Spring Lake Police Department can resume its role as a fully functioning law enforcement agency."
In the meantime, the Sheriff says Spring Lake residents can rest assured law enforcement is being handled. "Cumberland County Sheriff's Office has people on the streets now and we will be doing the patrols," Sheriff Earl Moose Butler said. For now the sheriff's department is operating out of its mobile command center. At this time city leaders aren't sure what will happen to the chief and police department. "We are formalizing a plan as we speak, so just give us a little time," Mayor Ethel Clark said. On Friday, Spring Lake Town Manager Larry Faison accused the media of giving the police department a bad image. On Monday, Faison refused to meet with reporters, but he later issued a statement saying the town is trying to determine the best course of action. Meanwhile, Spring Lake Officers say they aren't sure just what their jobs are now.