Local News

Lawmaker Questions Highway Patrol's Actions

Posted January 30, 2008 8:06 p.m. EST
Updated January 30, 2008 8:20 p.m. EST

— The state Highway Patrol is again facing questions about one of its members' judgment.

Over the weekend, a trooper chose not to issue a speeding ticket to a fellow law enforcement officer, an off-duty Durham policeman. After a review, the patrol has found that the off-duty officer was going nearly twice the posted speed limit.

A ticket was issued Tuesday night. Wednesday, though, at least one lawmaker was questioning the agency's actions.

Trooper David Smith clocked off-duty Durham police officer Anthony Harris going 84 mph in a 45 mph zone at about 7 p.m. Saturday on Junction Road near Club Boulevard. Smith stopped Harris but did not write a ticket.

Smith also decided that while he could smell alcohol on Harris' breath, Harris had passed field-sobriety tests and was not impaired, officials have said.

Former police officer Jon Blum told WRAL that it is not unusual to see that sort of conduct.

“I think it's common practice that officers use discretion anytime they stop someone in a car, including another law enforcement officer,” Blum said.

It wasn't until the news media questioned the Highway Patrol that Harris got a ticket.

The decision followed a string of high-profile incidents involving state troopers.

Several troopers quit or were fired over allegations ranging from driving while impaired to accusations of harassing women.

“What I think we have to demand from our troopers is the highest professional conduct,” Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, said Wednesday.

Kinnaird sits on the legislative committee that provides money for the Highway Patrol. She said there will be plenty of scrutiny when it comes to funding the agency.

When “you come to us asking for more money, we [are gong to] wanna know, have you cleaned up your act?” she said.

“I believe they've been supportive in the past, and when we are able to answer their questions, they'll continue to be supportive of the Highway Patrol,” said Bryan Beatty, secretary of the state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.

Beatty said he is not so much worried about funding as he is public perception.

“No one has said a trooper has gotten away with misbehavior, only that a trooper on the rare occasion has committed an act that's embarrassing and inappropriate,” Beatty said.

Beatty insisted that 99 percent of troopers do what is expected of them.

The Highway Patrol is reviewing Smith's actions with regards to not immediately ticketing Harris.