Local News

Judge allows Fayetteville police to continue consent searches

Posted March 1, 2012 12:33 p.m. EST
Updated March 1, 2012 6:08 p.m. EST

— A Super Court judge on Thursday granted an injunction to allow Fayetteville police to continue searches of vehicles after officers make a traffic stop and obtain the driver’s consent.

The Fayetteville City Council voted 8-2 last month to put consent searches on hold for 120 days while a consultant investigates claims that the practice disproportionately targets black drivers.

Fayetteville Police Chief Tom Bergamine and the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association decried the council's decision, saying it was unlawful and that consent searches are an important law enforcement tool. They filed a lawsuit last week seeking to resume the practice. 

"It was our concern that taking that away would jeopardize their safety, not only of the officers, but of the suspect who might be stopped and other bystanders," said Mike McGuinness, a lawyer for the association. 

Consent searches, which allow police officers to ask a driver's permission to search a vehicle without establishing probable cause, are legal under North Carolina law.

The State Attorney General's Office backed Bergamine's assertion that the council overstepped its boundaries.

Wilmington Judge Greg Bell's decision means police can resume searches until at least March 12, when another hearing is set at the Cumberland County Courthouse. 

The City of Fayetteville released a statement Thursday afternoon saying that a written consent form officers must use to get permission to conduct the search is being drafted. The searches will resume with the use of the written forms on Monday. 

Mayor Tony Chavonne said that is also the date a consultant's report on the matter is due. 

"Regardless of the court ruling today, the moratorium was going to end on the 12th anyway. So, it's not really a significant factor here," Chavonne said. "The report is more important. The potential policy change is more important. Our responsiveness to the community and restoring confidence in the police force is more important."