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Robeson Takes a Hit From Operation Tarnished Badge

The investigation of Robeson County sheriff's deputies has taken a toll on criminal prosecutions in the county, especially drug cases.

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LUMBERTON, N.C. — It's called Operation Tarnished Badge. It’s been aimed at the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office, and the county's criminal justice system has taken a hit.

Federal agents announced their four-year investigation last June, and the charges they have brought against some Robeson County deputies have been dramatic. The crimes include burning a home during a drug raid and stealing money during a drug arrest.

"It's had a very negative impact," District Attorney Johnson Britt said Tuesday. The damage has been especially hard in drug cases, since Tarnished Badge originated with drug-enforcement officers.

"We took dismissals in all the cases involving those officers—and it amounted to between 200 and 300 cases," Britt said.

There are 150 drug defendants whose cases have been tossed.

Britt said, however, that Tarnished Badge has not damaged murder and rape cases.

The sheriff's office referred all Tarnished Badge-related questions to the U.S. attorney's office in Raleigh. All 11 deputies who were charged have pleaded guilty and are in federal custody awaiting sentencing.

Almost two years ago, federal agents raided the sheriff's office, hauling away computers and documents. Allegations included money laundering, kidnapping and pirating satellite TV signals.

Carlton Mansfield, a local defense attorney, said he has not seen his peers in Robeson County rush to ask that cases be dismissed, but he said he has seen them support some of the deputies caught up in the probe.

There were "defense lawyers actually wanting to send character references for those officers because those officers were pretty good officers," Mansfield said.

The shadow cast by Tarnished Badge is draining the Sheriff's Office of seasoned deputies, Mansfield said. At least 15 employees have left the Sheriff's Office since June.

"To me, the most significant impact this is going to have is the lack of experienced law enforcement in the county," Mansfield said.


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