Sheriff refutes vehicle misuse allegations
Published 6:12 pm Sunday, November 19, 2017
Beaufort County Sheriff Ernie Coleman is investigating allegations employees misused sheriff’s office vehicles.
What he found so far, he said Thursday, is that the accusations made by Beaufort County Commissioner Jerry Langley at the Nov. 6 meeting of the Board of Commissioners don’t accurately reflect at least one incident in question.
At the meeting, Langley brought up two incidents of vehicle misuse he said he’d heard from others: a department vehicle being used to take a spouse to dinner in Greenville and a BCSO sergeant pulled over by N.C. State Highway Patrol trooper for traveling at 78 mph in a 55-mph zone while his child was the vehicle. Langley said he had witnessed a third occurrence, when he saw a sheriff’s office employee using a vehicle to take a pet to the veterinarian. Neither Coleman nor BCSO Chief Deputy Charlie Rose, who regularly attends commissioners’ meetings, were at the meeting; they were attending a North Carolina Sheriff’s Association conference.
Coleman said while there might be bits of truth in the accusations, they were mostly misrepresented.
He pointed to the incident in which the sergeant was pulled over by the trooper. Highway Patrol conducted its own review of the traffic stop, according to Coleman. He said after review of videos of the incident, investigators with Highway Patrol found that the BCSO first sergeant had not broken the law, and it was, in fact, the trooper who received disciplinary action for the nature of the stop.
Rather than traveling 78 mph in a 55-mph, 1st Sgt. Kent Hill was traveling 68 mph in a 60-mph zone on U.S. Highway 264. He was taking his 12-year-old son, seated in the passenger seat, to school on his way to work — a practice that is allowed within the sheriff’s office if permission is sought beforehand and the officer driving the vehicle avoids taking any law enforcement action while the passenger is in the vehicle, Coleman said.
Coleman went on to say that Trooper Christian Haddock pulled over Hill after Hill passed him; both were traveling in the same direction with Hill traveling a few miles per hour faster and waving at the other law enforcement officer as he passed. The action prompted an immediate, and aggressive, traffic stop, according to Coleman.
“He stopped one of my deputies in an unmarked car going eight miles per hour over the speed limit. Haddock has a problem with rage. He called it disrespectful that (Hill) passed him,” Coleman said.
Coleman said he spoke with both Lt. Col. Vic Ward, commander of N.C. Highway Patrol, and 1st Sgt. Tim Crumpler, who investigated on a local level.
“They told me he was 110 percent in the wrong for his demeanor, his language, his right to even stop another law enforcement officer,” Coleman said. “I was going to take disciplinary action on my guy until I found out what really happened.”
During the Nov. 6 meeting, Langley said the trooper had been transferred out of the county due to the incident; Coleman said the transfer was the result of the Highway Patrol investigation — the sheriff had no role in it.
Coleman said talk of the county potentially monitoring the use of sheriff’s office vehicles in unwarranted, as courts have ruled that, though funded by the county, the county has no influence on sheriff’s office operations.
“Absolutely the county has no authority over this office, not one inch. I’m not saying nothing was done improperly — we’re investigating,” Coleman said. “I consider what Jerry Langley did at the county commissioners’ meeting as a citizen’s complaint. … That’s personnel matters, and we’re looking into it. We’re investigating.”
Coleman said he believes that making the allegations in a public forum was politically motivated — Coleman plans to run for sheriff again next year and several other candidates have already declared their intentions, thought filing does not begin until February.
“This is all about politics and all about corruption and using the county forum when you’re supposed to be doing county business,” Coleman said. “The people right now are overwhelmingly disgusted with politics — national, state and local. I honestly think that people care who their elected officials are, but they don’t care about the politics.”
Langley stated during the meeting that the reason he broached the issue was to publicly address what could be a county liability.
“Those vehicles belong to the county of Beaufort, and if something terrible happens (while being driven for personal use) then the county of Beaufort will be responsible,” Langley said at the time.