State News

N.C. jury awards $850,000 to former soldier

Posted October 28, 2009

— A former Army sergeant wounded during a military training exercise was awarded $850,000 in his lawsuit against the Moore County Sheriff's Office and the former deputy who shot him.

A federal jury in Greensboro awarded the money to former Army Sgt. Stephen Phelps, who was injured in the February 2002 shooting that killed another soldier. He had sued the sheriff's office and former Deputy Randall Butler.

"I was happy that the truth finally came out," Phelps said after the verdict was read Tuesday night.

The jury awarded $650,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 each as punitive damages for Butler’s violation of state and federal law, Phelps' lawyer, Carlos Mahoney, said.

Mahoney was seeking $1.2 million.

Randall Butler, deputy in Robin Sage shooting Former deputy ordered to pay soldier

"It was merely the verdict I was seeking. I wanted to be heard by a jury of my peers," Phelps said.

Moore County Sheriff Lane Carter said neither he nor Butler would comment. Jim Morgan, who represented Butler and the sheriff's office, declined to comment on whether they would appeal the verdict.

Phelps and 1st Lt. Tallas Tomeny had been taking part in Robin Sage, an exercise that trains soldiers for Special Forces. Tomeny was killed, and his estate settled out of court.

During Robin Sage, soldiers simulate infiltration of a foreign nation. Phelps and Charles Leiber, a civilian who was playing the role of an adviser, testified that they thought Butler stopping their vehicle was part of the exercise.

Butler had argued that the men were acting suspiciously in an area that had experienced a lot burglaries. Butler also said he saw two machine guns and that Tomeny had told Phelps to kill him.

Phelps said Butler overreacted.

“An exercise that’s gone on for half of a century – it’s difficult for me to fathom how a law enforcement officer, any law enforcement officer, could not know that was going on,” Phelps said.

“It seems ludicrous at best, if not an outright falsehood,” he said of the assertion.

On Tuesday, jurors said they didn't believe Butler's claims about the guns or the order to kill. Greg Harris of Hoke County said he found Phelps and Leiber more believable than Butler.

"Mr. Leiber's testimony was pretty strong," he said. "And Phelps - (the lawyers) couldn't get him crossed up. His story stayed the same throughout his testimony."

Harris said Butler's story changed.

Phelps, 35, now lives in Florida and works as a defense contractor. He said he can never forget the day of the shooting, but he’s tried to put it past him. “I just keep pushing on. It’s not something that I dwell on," he said.

33 Comments

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  • ranquick Oct 28, 2009

    to be sure the cops knew about the exercise, how could thye not know since it has been going on for so long. I am not sure they shot and killed and wounded on purpose but the soilder deserves every bit for his injuries.

  • OHn8tive Oct 28, 2009

    When the event first happened, it was reported that LEOs were informed, but apparently that deputy did not get the message. If anyone is to blame, it is the deputy's office and/or superiors who did not inform him of the training!

  • GravyPig Oct 28, 2009

    Could someone please explain the Robin Sage training? You keep pointing out that it has been going on for 50 years. Does this happen at the same time and place every year? Do they make sure all LEOs in that area are aware of this event and the days and times they will be training?

    What would the officer do if he knew that there was a training mission and still pulled these guys over? Doesn't the officer owe it to the public to confirm these guys are actually military and not just some thugs?

  • grenlyn1 Oct 28, 2009

    I only hope that Phelps will now be able to go on with life and finally out this horrific event behind him.

  • Tarheelfan13 Oct 28, 2009

    Let me preface by saying that there is no question that the military is the most professional and well trained and most respected uniformed organization even over law enforcement. And yes military training takes precedence over civilian concerns because national defense takes priority even over local/state law enforcement. However, in this particular case I do not see how this deputy can be totally faulted. The deputy cannot automatically assume anything at a traffic stop due to the fact that a LEO life is always at potential risk during a traffic stop. This was a tragic situation and I do not know all the facts but it appears to me that the deputy was defending himself.

  • SME2 Oct 28, 2009

    They have been doing that training, in that area, for more than 50 years. There is simply no way the Sheriff was unaware of a large scale miltary training exercise that has been in place at that location for more than half a century.-confederateyankee

    So what you are saying is that the Sheriff should have assumed that these were military? That makes sense

  • HappyGirl08 Oct 28, 2009

    Well the whole situation is sad. Unfortunatly, someone dropped the ball in informing this deputy and as a result people were injured and killed.

  • Professor Oct 28, 2009

    He deserved every dime and more.

  • dbcooper41 Oct 28, 2009

    millerb, get off your soapbox and admit the military srewed up in this situation. their own investigation determined that and they changed their policies as a result.
    and i do blame the politicians in washington and the pentagon for the illegal invasions we've taken part in over the past 50 years. to them war seems to be just business as usual, a chance for personal power and profit, without regard for who really gets hurt. but i don't blame the grunts who are used as pawns by the above mentioned.
    i strongly support a defensive military. i have a problem with the arms industry that drives a foreign policy that is based on invading and attempting to control other countries through force. particulalry when the end result seems to be increased profit for the arms merchants and mercenaries and a less stable world for the rest of us.

  • MillerB Oct 28, 2009

    dbcooper41...ok...I can plainly see you are anti-military. They don't train to overthrow anything. They train to protect your constituional right to treat them like slime and totally disrespect the service they, and thousands before them, have done for years. If you want to blame anyone for "overthrowing" a country, blame the guy that sits in that big round office in Washington DC. The one before Obama did a great job of using the military for his own little war and to betray the rights of Americans all across this country.

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