Local News

Dead soldier's family settles suit over Robin Sage shooting

Posted October 13, 2009

— The family of a Fort Bragg soldier killed more than seven years ago during a training exercise has settled a pending lawsuit against a Moore County deputy.

U.S. District Judge Bill Osteen said the estate of Tallas Tomeny settled its claims over the weekend against the Moore County Sheriff's Department and former deputy Randall Butler. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed.

The settlement comes as a civil suit begins in the 2002 shooting that killed Tomeny and wounded fellow soldier Stephen Phelps. Jurors were being selected Tuesday morning, and testimony was expected to begin Wednesday.

The lawsuit contends that Butler fired at the men on Feb. 23, 2002, without provocation after the deputy pulled over their truck.

The soldiers were participating in Robin Sage, an annual Special Forces training exercise in central North Carolina. According to the lawsuit, they believed Butler was part of the role-playing exercise and that Tomeny repeatedly used a common code word to indicate that they were part of the exercise.

Butler shot Tomeny after searching him and shot Phelps as he tried to flee, according to the lawsuit. Neither soldier was armed at the time.

Butler, who is now chief deputy with the Lee County Sheriff's Office, contends in his own lawsuit against the government that he wasn't aware of the training exercise. He pulled over the truck because it was suspicious, and he saw what appeared to be two machine guns in a bag, according to his lawsuit.

His lawsuit contends that Tomeny tried to grab Butler's holstered handgun and that Phelps disregarded orders to halt as he jumped out of the truck and rummaged through the bag where the deputy saw the machine guns.

Butler's lawsuit hasn't yet been scheduled for trial.

Before jury selection began Tuesday, Osteen spoke with attorneys for both sides about how much information about the Robin Sage drill should be included. The judge said there is evidence the officers referred to the drill by mentioning Pineland, the made-up country used in Robin Sage, and by trying to bribe Butler with fake money. How that information will play into the case was unclear Tuesday.

Phelps has since left the Army and now works in Florida.

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  • doubletap357 Oct 14, 3:42 p.m.

    I have participated in this operation several times in the past and I can see where a communication error could lead to tragedy. Participating officers were well briefed about what was going on and what they were supposed to do. However, these training missions occur out in the public and theres always a possibility that an officer "not in the loop" could stumble upon the solders while they are engaged in there covert activities.

  • 82ndAAHeel Oct 13, 4:59 p.m.

    Its amazing that this deputy did not have the slightest clue as hearing they were from a made up country or that he didn't noticed the fake money? Yes the army was at fault and the moore county chain of command for not spreading the information about to all LOEs in the area, however, I think the deputy probably got a little tight in sphinter and reacted on adrenaline. I don't know if any of us would have reacted any differently. What should make all of us mad is the tax payers have to pay regardless of who is at fault: Army, LOE, Feds, etc...

  • AnotherIgnoredComment Oct 13, 3:56 p.m.

    So the army screws up, you can't sue the feds, so you sue the deputy who did his job as he was trained. Wonderful family....way to ruin another mans life

  • 6079 SMITH W Oct 13, 3:23 p.m.

    STS: Yep, it sounds like "TOOMERGATE" all over again.

  • SailbadTheSinner Oct 13, 3:04 p.m.

    “Terms of the deal weren't disclosed.”

    Whooo there Nellie: This is PUBLIC money. How can the ‘terms of the deal’ not be open to the public?

    STS