Local News

Cumberland DA Steps Into 'Ticketgate' Controversy

Posted December 4, 2007 4:40 p.m. EST
Updated January 10, 2008 5:28 p.m. EST

— Cumberland County District Attorney Ed Grannis said Tuesday he would look into filing obstruction of justice charges against any Fayetteville City Council members who try to reinstate a traffic ticket that sparked an ongoing political controversy.

Grannis also said in a letter to Fayetteville City Attorney Karen McDonald and Tiffany Snead, the legal adviser to the Fayetteville Police Department, that he would put together an investigative team to review the Oct. 25 wreck that sparked the so-called "Ticketgate" controversy.

Three cars were involved in the wreck at the intersection of Stoney Point and Gillis Hill roads. A Fayetteville police officer, after receiving conflicting reports from witnesses, cited driver Diana Knight for running a red light.

Knight's husband, Gary Knight, a former deputy garrison commander at Fort Bragg, called Mayor Tony Chavonne that evening to complain, saying he thought police were rushing to judgment. Police voided the ticket shortly after Chavonne and City Manager Dale Iman visited Diana Knight in the hospital.

Police later charged the driver of another car involved in the wreck, Jamell Rashad Jones, 21, with running the red light.

The City Council voted last Friday to reinstate the ticket against Diana Knight. Chavonne voted against the proposal.

Grannis said in his letter that the council doesn't have the authority to reinstate a ticket, and he said any effort to press the matter could result in obstruction charges.

"In my 37 years in this office, I do not recall any government body ever ordering a law enforcement head to issue criminal process," he wrote. "Should the city of Fayetteville carry out this directive to the chief of police, I would feel compelled to conduct a formal criminal inquiry concerning possible obstruction of justice charges."

Instead, Grannis offered to assemble a team of four investigators from his office and the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office to review the accident, including interviewing witnesses and the Fayetteville police officer who initially ticketed Diana Knight. They would report their findings to Grannis and Cumberland County Sheriff Earl "Moose" Butler.

The City Council voted last Friday to ask the state Attorney General's Office to investigate the actions of Chavonne, Iman and Police Chief Tom Bergamine in the case.

The State Bureau of Investigation and the state Highway Patrol earlier declined requests to investigate the case.

Grannis said his investigative team would review the case only if the city abandoned its efforts for a state probe.

"While I understand the city of Fayetteville has the authority to conduct internal investigations, I feel such an investigation by the city would be totally disruptive to the efforts of Sheriff Butler and the district attorney to conduct an independent review of the facts and circumstances surrounding the accident in question," he wrote.

The City Council plans to meet Thursday to discuss the matter.