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Cumberland DA Steps Into 'Ticketgate' Controversy

Posted December 4, 2007
Updated January 10, 2008

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— Cumberland County District Attorney Ed Grannis said Tuesday he would look into filing obstruction of justice charges against any Fayetteville City Council members who try to reinstate a traffic ticket that sparked an ongoing political controversy.

Grannis also said in a letter to Fayetteville City Attorney Karen McDonald and Tiffany Snead, the legal adviser to the Fayetteville Police Department, that he would put together an investigative team to review the Oct. 25 wreck that sparked the so-called "Ticketgate" controversy.

Three cars were involved in the wreck at the intersection of Stoney Point and Gillis Hill roads. A Fayetteville police officer, after receiving conflicting reports from witnesses, cited driver Diana Knight for running a red light.

Knight's husband, Gary Knight, a former deputy garrison commander at Fort Bragg, called Mayor Tony Chavonne that evening to complain, saying he thought police were rushing to judgment. Police voided the ticket shortly after Chavonne and City Manager Dale Iman visited Diana Knight in the hospital.

Police later charged the driver of another car involved in the wreck, Jamell Rashad Jones, 21, with running the red light.

The City Council voted last Friday to reinstate the ticket against Diana Knight. Chavonne voted against the proposal.

Grannis said in his letter that the council doesn't have the authority to reinstate a ticket, and he said any effort to press the matter could result in obstruction charges.

"In my 37 years in this office, I do not recall any government body ever ordering a law enforcement head to issue criminal process," he wrote. "Should the city of Fayetteville carry out this directive to the chief of police, I would feel compelled to conduct a formal criminal inquiry concerning possible obstruction of justice charges."

Instead, Grannis offered to assemble a team of four investigators from his office and the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office to review the accident, including interviewing witnesses and the Fayetteville police officer who initially ticketed Diana Knight. They would report their findings to Grannis and Cumberland County Sheriff Earl "Moose" Butler.

The City Council voted last Friday to ask the state Attorney General's Office to investigate the actions of Chavonne, Iman and Police Chief Tom Bergamine in the case.

The State Bureau of Investigation and the state Highway Patrol earlier declined requests to investigate the case.

Grannis said his investigative team would review the case only if the city abandoned its efforts for a state probe.

"While I understand the city of Fayetteville has the authority to conduct internal investigations, I feel such an investigation by the city would be totally disruptive to the efforts of Sheriff Butler and the district attorney to conduct an independent review of the facts and circumstances surrounding the accident in question," he wrote.

The City Council plans to meet Thursday to discuss the matter.

30 Comments

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  • nccrew Dec 5, 2007

    Elcid89
    In regards to sovereign immunity there is no doubt that the city cannot claim this. They have no immunity from suit. For that matter I expect the City of Fayetteville will pay out millions for this disaster. What I was saying is that the DA could not levy charges upon a single council member for their vote – regardless of the legality or constitutionality of that vote. So long as the council member was acting in their professional capacity their vote cannot be grounds for criminal prosecution. BUT if that council member acted as a rogue agent, or operated outside of their official capacity then they would be fair game for prosecution.

  • nccrew Dec 5, 2007

    Elcid89, I agree with you 100%. My post was regarding the DA’s threat towards the 6 members of the council who voted to re-issue the citation. In that he would try to charge them for Obstruction. I would like to know what General Statute the DA would do that under. Like I was saying the council would have absolute immunity for the VOTE itself. However, like you are saying the Mayor, the City Manager, and to some lesser extent the Police Chief would seem to be in violation of the law. Namely, NC General Statutes 14-223 and 14-221.2. In that simply taking the officer aside to try and “talk” to the officer would be grounds for delay and obstruction under NCGS 14-223. But once they materially altered the citation and had it voided after it was issued they clearly violated the law (NCGS 14-221.2)

  • The Dude Dec 5, 2007

    Why doesn't everyone just apologize and take their due punishment for trying to get a ticket kicked without going through the legal channels. STOP WASTING TAXES ON USELESS INVESTIGATIONS!!!!! Tickets don't just get rescinded after the mayor talks to one of the victims. He's wrong and needs to be punished, but calling in the SBI and SHP over this is over the top. The mayor and city manager did a little back scratching and got caught. It happens at every city (even Raleigh) and nobody gets caught. If they do, the public needs to demand punishment, but not thousands of dollars wasted on investigations.

  • elcid89 Dec 5, 2007

    "So I don't get it...why isn't the DA pressing obstruction of justice charges against the Mayor who intervened in this in the first place.....?"

    He may. Doing so would entail being able to establish that the mayor actually exerted pressure that caused the police department to withdraw the charges. In order to press the charge, he has to be able to substantiate it. Hence the investigation.

  • elcid89 Dec 5, 2007

    "But, when the council "ordered" the police to reissue the ticket, this would not have been a bill of attainder. As there would have been no conviction or punishment issued by the council. Although it is highly unusual, it’s not unconstitutional. In other words, the councils order could only be legally upheld/executed if probable cause existed to write Ms Knight the ticket."

    You are missing the point. He's asserting that they are obstructing the course of justice. In other words, they are exerting influence on the system, from outside the system, in order to coerce an outcome they desire. They're acting from a position they are not entitled to act from. In practical terms, that's no different than you or I hindering an investigation.

    What he's saying is exactly that. "You are out of bounds here. Stop doing what you are doing."

  • elcid89 Dec 5, 2007

    "A legislative body cannot be charged criminally for a vote. Period. The District Attorney has no authority to charge for a legislative vote. The US Constitution, several court cases, and other doctrines establish this principle."

    This is somewhat incorrect. Local and county governmental bodies in NC enjoy no protections deriving from sovereign immunity. That stops at the level of the state. Going further, city councils and county commissions are not legislative bodies. They are administrative bodies. Slight difference.

  • GoodToGo Dec 5, 2007

    So I don't get it...why isn't the DA pressing obstruction of justice charges against the Mayor who intervened in this in the first place.....?

  • BEACH Dec 5, 2007

    JUST THE GOOD OLE BOYS SYSTEM AND I LIVE IN FAY.
    THE WONDERFUL MAYOR!!!! should have keep his NOSE OUT OF
    SOMETHING THAT WAS NOT HIS BUSINESS,
    HE DID NOT BOTHER TO VISIT THE BOY THAT WAS HURT SO BAD
    IN THE HOSPITAL, Just his good friend that was trying to get
    out of a ticket!!!!!!!!!!
    I THINK HE SHOULD BE KICKED OUT!!

  • nccrew Dec 5, 2007

    A legislative body cannot be charged criminally for a vote. Period. The District Attorney has no authority to charge for a legislative vote. The US Constitution, several court cases, and other doctrines establish this principle.
    However, neither the council nor any other legislative body can issue a bill of attainder. But, when the council "ordered" the police to reissue the ticket, this would not have been a bill of attainder. As there would have been no conviction or punishment issued by the council. Although it is highly unusual, it’s not unconstitutional.
    In other words, the councils order could only be legally upheld/executed if probable cause existed to write Ms Knight the ticket. If there was a lack PC then a citation could not be issued, this is consistent with the NC General Statutes, a higher level of law then a city council directive.
    Though I must say, the city council's directive is foolish. I would take the council’s directive as symbolic.

  • Politically Honest NOT PC Dec 5, 2007

    Sounds like just another case of "Money talks and the poor walk...I been hitch hiking for years" or "It is now what you know that will get you places, rather it is WHO you know that will get you places"

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