No Charges Filed in 'Ticketgate' Probe
Posted January 10, 2008
Fayetteville, N.C. — Cumberland County District Attorney Ed Grannis said Thursday he doesn't plan to file any charges in the case of a voided traffic ticket that sparked a political controversy.
Grannis assembled an investigative team to review the Oct. 25 wreck that sparked the so-called "Ticketgate" controversy. But he said witness reports were so contradictory that no criminal case could be made against anyone.
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 Fayetteville City Council voted last month to reinstate the ticket against Diana Knight but later reversed course after Grannis threatened to pursue obstruction of justice charges against council members for interfering in the case.
Detective Jim McVicker of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, part of the four-man investigative team, said the witnesses couldn’t agree on whether it was raining that day, whether they had the red light or whether the car that caused the accident was on Gillis Hill Road or Stoney Point Road.
"These investigators have interviewed every known witness. The witnesses are very honest, conscientious folks, but they are in total conflict with what they saw," Grannis said. "There's no way you can establish either (driver's) responsibility in these traffic charges to a moral certainty."
The decision means the charge against Jones has been dropped, and no charge will be pursued against Diana Knight.
Conflicting witness statements are common in traffic wrecks, and charges in such cases are often later dismissed, Grannis said.
One witness who initially told police that Diana Knight had run a red light couldn't be located by investigators, but Grannis said that person's statements likely wouldn't have changed his decision not to press charges.
Grannis said the case was the first time in 35 years he’s had to assemble a special team to investigate a wreck.
“I think the public interest was that significant, but it sure is unusual,” he said.
Iman and Fayetteville Police Chief Tom Bergamine issued a statement late Thursday said Grannis' decision didn't change their belief that Jones should have been charged in the case.
A certified accident reconstruction instructor in the Fayetteville Police Department investigated the case, including talking to the same witnesses as Grannis' team, and determined there was probable cause to cite Jones in the wreck.
"While we respect the district attorney’s decision not to pursue criminal prosecution against either driver in this matter, it does not negate the fact that probable cause existed to issue the ticket to Mr. Jones," the statement said.
Jennifer Rodriguez, the officer who initially investigated the wreck, recently resigned from the police department. An attorney representing her said she is considering a lawsuit against the department.