Local News

Case represents pattern in Highway Patrol, some say

Posted November 12, 2008 5:58 p.m. EST
Updated November 12, 2008 7:11 p.m. EST

— In the past year, three North Carolina Highway Patrol troopers who were terminated or demoted have fought to get back their jobs.

Last year, Judge Melissa Owens Lassiter recommended re-instating fired trooper Monty Poarch, who had been terminated for having sex in his patrol car and at a district station.

In June, Judge Fred Morrison recommended Sgt. Charles L. Jones – fired after being accused of abusing his K-9 – be reinstated.

And last week, Judge Joe Webster recommended the Highway Patrol rescind the demotion of Trooper Mitch Foard, who was accused in 2006 of making a racial slur on a voice mail message.

Webster questioned the validity of the message and the accuser's credibility, saying he believed the investigation to be inadequate and not objective.

Webster stated in his decision that Capt. Ken Castelloe, who was the internal affairs investigator handling the case, never interviewed the accuser and never asked to hear the original message.

The Highway Patrol says each case is independent of the others. Others disagree, saying there is a pattern.

"The investigation conducted by internal affairs was inadequate. It was flawed from the beginning," Foard's attorney, Travis Payne, said of the most recent case.

Castelloe, who served seven years in internal affairs before being reassigned last year, handled all three cases.

Payne also represents several police associations and said he believes no one should be in a position like Castelloe's for more than three years.

A recent independent audit, which the Highway Patrol commissioned, recommended considering a rotation policy for internal affairs and limiting the terms for that assignment.

"When investigators are in internal affairs for too long, they get, shall we say, enamored of their power – the old saying that power corrupts," Payne said.

John Midgette, executive director of the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association – which represents more than 500 state troopers – says the three cases are examples of the Highway Patrol's exercising double standards, unfair investigations and a lack of due process for troopers.

"We've had three very respected administrative law judges that have ruled there has been malfeasance, cover-up and corruption within the investigation of trooper members," Midgette said.

The state personnel commission rejected Lassiter's recommendation to reinstate Poarch, but ordered the Highway Patrol to bring back Jones after the K-9 case.

It has yet to rule in Foard's case. That could come as early as Dec. 11.

Highway Patrol spokesman Capt. Everett Clendenin said Wednesday that the agency is not considering a policy to limit how long someone can serve in internal affairs.

Clendenin said Tuesday that the Highway Patrol commander, Col. Walter Wilson, will review with legal counsel Webster's ruling that Castelloe's investigation was a rush to judgment.

He would not comment Wednesday on the decisions from the administrative hearings.