RALEIGH, N.C. — The Wake County district attorney on Monday dropped a number of pending charges brought against drivers by a state trooper whose professionalism was questioned earlier this year.
District Attorney Colon Willoughby dismissed 126 charges involving 67 defendants. Twenty-eight involved charges of driving while impaired.
Earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens ruled the arresting officer in those cases, Trooper Scott Harrison, "unworthy of belief" based on his testimony during a pretrial hearing for a Nov. 10, 2005, drunken-driving case.
Stephens dismissed the case, saying Harrison made the stop based on gender and that it was "unconstitutional and unlawful profiling."
Willoughby said Harrison's credibility was a key factor in prosecuting the cases, and without his testimony, prosecutors could not adequately prosecute them.
"Sadly, some people probably escaped who are guilty, but we didn't make the rules," Willoughby said. "We didn't create the situation. We just have to respond to it."
Willoughby said he also anticipates dismissing charges against another 20 to 30 defendants at a court date in early September.
"I respectfully but strongly disagree with the district attorney's decision, but the decision was not in my hands," Harrison said in a statement released Monday afternoon. (Read Harrison's full statement.)
Defendants in court said they were surprised at the district attorney's decision, saying they felt like they "dodged a bullet" and that they "would learn from their mistakes."
It was not immediately clear how the district attorney's office's decision to throw out the charges could affect convictions in which Harrison was the arresting officer.
Raleigh defense attorney Bill Young said last week, however, that such appeals, although not impossible, would be difficult because North Carolina has high standards for vacating a case after sentencing.
Known for taking a tough stance on drunken driving, Harrison and his credibility were called into question in March by Young and another attorney, James Crouch, who were concerned about his conduct.
Young cited concerns from female clients about "flirtatious" comments Harrison allegedly made to them. Crouch accused him of assaulting a Holly Springs man while handcuffed in the processing area of the Wake County Jail.
Harrison has adamantly denied those claims, calling them "false and slanderous allegations" and has said that he was fair in his arrests.
"I believe that the arrest statistics will ultimately show that my arrest rates are closer to a 50-50 percentile of both men and women – and that, in itself, will show there's no pattern of profiling."
A state trooper also testified during the two-day hearing that Harrison made statements to him that he perceived as indirect threats against the attorneys.
Those alleged threats also played into Stephens' ruling, he wrote.
"Such conduct of threatening to harm lawyers is not in keeping with the excellent reputation and the high standards of the North Carolina Highway Patrol," Stephens wrote.
The Highway Patrol, which said Monday it supports Willoughby's decision, is investigating the accusations against Harrison, He is on administrative duty pending the outcome of the probe.
The state has also put Harrison on notice that his law enforcement certification could be rescinded because of a guilty plea he entered in June to a contempt charge.
Harrison admitted in court this month to leaving a district judge's courtroom in April when he saw a television camera inside, because he did not want to interact with the media.
The judge charged Harrison with two counts of criminal contempt of court – one for lying to the court and one for disruption of the court. Harrison pleaded guilty to one count for disruption. The other charge was dismissed.