Local News

State Trooper's Professionalism Called Into Question

Posted March 29, 2007 6:04 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina Highway Patrol troopers are held to some of the highest standards of law enforcement. It's not often that their conduct is called into question.

In 2006, there were 1,800 state troopers and 79 incidents of physical altercations of some kind involving a trooper and a suspect, according to the Highway Patrol. In 2005, there were 97 incidents.

But a Holly Springs man says a trooper stationed in Wake County assaulted him. The man's attorney says he believes the incident is part of a pattern of unprofessional behavior.

On March 7, Trooper Scott Harrison arrested Kenneth Davis and charged him with drunken driving. What happened next is unclear. Davis says Harrison assaulted him in the processing area of the Wake County Jail while his hands were cuffed behind his back.

"The highway patrolman grabbed him by the back of the neck and slammed his face down into some object," Davis' attorney, James Crouch of Raleigh, said. "We are not sure if it was a counter, if it was the wall."

Davis was taken to a local hospital with a minor head injury, according to Crouch, and was then charged with assaulting the officer. The Highway Patrol is investigating the incident.

"It appears that the trooper was defending himself, that the suspect leaped up, charged the trooper with his shoulder down, and the trooper did a defensive action," Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Everett Clendenin said. "And as a result, the suspect tripped and fell and hit his head."

"I have my concerns about the level of professionalism exhibited in this case, and I base it on other cases I've had involving this trooper," Crouch said. "And I think my colleagues in the defense bar would echo that concern."

Within the past two months, numerous lawyers and judges have voiced concern to WRAL about Harrison's conduct on the job and in the courtroom. Several say the North Carolina Highway Patrol's Internal Affairs Division has contacted them regarding Harrison's conduct.

"I have had a number of my female clients, primarily young female clients, express concerns about inappropriate comments made to them while (Harrison was) processing them and after being arrested, bordering on what I would call flirtatious -- flirtations," Raleigh attorney Bill Young said. "And it has caused me a great deal of concern about his professionalism."

Harrison has been with the Highway Patrol since 2002. He is known for being tough on drunken driving. Last year, he arrested 116 people on drunken-driving charges. Yet, when WRAL recently checked his Myspace.com Web page, it contained many pictures of him drinking. There were multiple references to alcohol and getting drunk. As of Tuesday, he changed the page requiring visitors to be a friend to view everything that is posted.

"Our rules are that troopers must conduct themselves in a professional manner," Clendenin said. "Having said that, they do have First Amendment rights. We're going to look into this. We've just been made aware of it, and we will make a decision down the road."

Harrison remains on duty for the Highway Patrol. He has not been charged with anything.

"If this investigation reveals he has violated state law or Highway Patrol policy, we'll take the appropriate action," Crouch said.

The Highway Patrol says it is looking into all allegations concerning Harrison.

WRAL spoke directly with Harrison at length, and also with one of his attorneys, Eliot Smith of Wilson, on three separate occasions. Each said they have chosen at this time not to respond on the record to the allegations.