Highway Patrol trooper receives award for meritorious conduct

Published 8:20 pm Friday, December 2, 2016

Trooper Joseph P. Howard, who’s been with the North Carolina Highway Patrol for nine and a half years as a sworn officer, recently added something new to his service record — the Highway Patrol’s Meritorious Service Award.

Howard, stationed at the Troop A, District 4, Highway Patrol office in Washington, was presented the award during an awards ceremony Tuesday at the State Bureau of Investigation’s auditorium in Raleigh. The Highway Patrol Meritorious Service Award is presented to a member or members who serve the state of North Carolina in an outstanding manner.

In addition to the Meritorious Service Award, the Highway Patrol also awards the following: Award of Valor, Purple Heart Award, Samaritan Award and Humanitarian Service Award. Col. Bill Grey, commander of the Highway Patrol, and Frank L. Perry, secretary of the Department of Public Safety, presented the award to Howard and other awards to other Highway Patrol members and some civilians.

“Thanks to Trooper Howard’s keen observation and investigative skills, a routine traffic stop for speeding led to the recovery of a missing juvenile as well as the capture of a dangerous wanted criminal,” reads the narrative on Howard’s award.

On May 29, at approximately 5:30 p.m., Howard stopped a vehicle for speeding on U.S. Highway 17 in Beaufort County. As he approached the vehicle, Howard noticed a male driver, two female passengers and an infant. Howard talked with the driver, but, based on his training and experience, Howard suspected the driver was involved in some type of criminal activity.

Howard ran a license check that revealed the driver was wanted in Virginia. Howard noticed the two young female passengers appeared extremely nervous. After securing the driver, Howard interviewed the female passengers, then contacted the Highway Patrol’s communications center in Raleigh. By making that contact, Howard determined one of the female passengers was a missing juvenile from Virginia.

Howard said the man, in his 50s, said he was the father of the girl, 17, in the front passenger’s seat.

“It’s kind of weird to me that you’re going to be entered as a missing juvenile when you’re riding down the road with your father. So, that was one of the things I picked up on,” Howard said. “I also smelled an odor of marijuana. I was going to search the vehicle. I had another unit come up. We got him out and secured him.”

The other girl, 18, was in the back seat with her baby, Howard recalled.

“We did find narcotics on them. After speaking with them and telling them she was entered as a missing juvenile, and I was physically speaking on the phone to her father in Virginia,” Howard said. “So, then I asked the male, ‘I’m speaking to her father. Who are you?’ He said, ‘I’m like her father. I take care of her.’”

Howard said the juvenile told him the driver was her boyfriend. The girl in the backseat claimed to be a friend of the juvenile and “just along for the ride,” Howard said.

“It didn’t look right,” Howard said of the situation.

The driver, whose Virginia driver’s license was revoked, was arrested, taken to the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office and charged with possession of narcotics. Eventually, he was extradited to Virginia. The juvenile also was charged with possession of narcotics. The two girls and baby were turned over to the Beaufort County Department of Social Services, which provided the girl with the baby a ride back home, Howard said. Later, the juvenile was returned to her home in Virginia.

During his conversation with the juvenile’s father, Howard said, the father said the driver, whom the father knew, had been using his daughter for prostitution.

“He knew of the situation. He’s the one who actually told me (the driver) was more or less pimping her out,” Howard said. “That was his suspicion as well.”

At one point, Howard said, the driver told him there was a weapon in the car, but it turned out to be something like a starter’s pistol. “However, it looked like a real pistol,” Howard noted.

Howard said he’s been through human-trafficking training. “The human-trafficking stuff that we had, that training really paid off because I was able to see some of the signs,” he explained. “That made me dig for a little bit more and to look for more information.”

Howard said he’s had his share of traffic stops that provided unexpected results, such as finding wanted people. It’s part of the job, he noted.

“I won’t ever forget that traffic stop. It will be one that I remember forever,” Howard said. “This one really stood out because I was able to get the juvenile out of that situation more so than a lot of the others.”


About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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