Local News

Spring Lake Police Department stripped of authority

Posted May 4, 2009 3:48 p.m. EDT
Updated May 5, 2009 10:41 a.m. EDT

— Two Spring Lake police sergeants have been arrested and their department has been stripped of its criminal investigation duties.

The Cumberland County Sheriff's Office has full authority in the town, officials said, and has also assumed all 911 calls to the police department.



In a letter Monday to Chief District Judge Elizabeth Keever, District Attorney Edward Grannis said he has also dismissed the majority of the police department's pending misdemeanor cases.

He said he suspects senior officers of lying and directing other officers to fabricate facts in police reports.

"We can no longer rely upon the basic presumed integrity of the work product of this department," he said.

Sgt. Alphonzo Devonne Whittington Jr., 32, was charged with one count of embezzlement, one count of obtaining property by false pretense, three counts of larceny, three counts of obstruction of justice – all felonies – and two misdemeanor counts of failure to discharge duty and one misdemeanor count of solicitation to commit a felony.

He was in the Cumberland County jail Monday evening under a $100,000 bond.

Sgt. Darryl Eugene Coulter Sr., 43, faces 20 counts: two counts of obstruction of justice; three counts of second-degree kidnapping; and one count of felony breaking and entering – all felony charges.

He also faces two counts of willful failure to discharge duty; three counts of simple assault; three counts of assault with a deadly weapon; three counts of assault by pointing a gun and three counts of false imprisonment – all misdemeanors.

He was in the Cumberland County jail under a $250,000 bond.

Further details of the crimes were not immediately available Monday afternoon, but District Court Judge Beth Keever said in a memo to county magistrates that the indictments were for actions that occurred while the officers were on duty.

On a judge’s order, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office has handled felony investigations in the town since July 2007, following a botched homicide investigation involving a 3-year-old.

Grannis had been concerned that the police department didn't have the capacity to investigate more-serious crimes.

He first asked the State Bureau of Investigation to begin investigating the police department in 2007, he said in the letter, following a conversation a police officer had with a deputy about narcotics enforcement.

An SBI report raised "much deeper concern" that the police department "lacked the trained manpower and expertise to conduct a felony investigation," he said in his letter.

The SBI is continuing its probe, and Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, said more indictments are possible.

Meanwhile, Cumberland County Sheriff Earl "Moose" Butler said, four deputies will work in Spring Lake each shift as long as necessary.

"The Cumberland County Sheriff's Office has people on the streets now, and we'll be doing the patrolling," Butler said. "We want the people of Spring Lake to know that we're here."

The sheriff's office has also established a command post at the Spring Lake Library and set up the telephone number 910-323-1500 for non-emergency phone calls.

Grannis said Spring Lake Police Chief A.C. Brown is still chief, but he would not say what will happen with the town's 20-plus officers.

"I really can't answer that," he told reporters Monday. "You really need to be talking with someone from the Town of Spring Lake with those questions. Not us."

“I am discouraged at today’s turn of events. We are reviewing these events and actions to determine the best course of action for our citizens and our organization," Faison said in a statement Monday evening.

"We will be discussing with the sheriff a refinement to the rules of procedure affecting our officers’ protocol and the services of the sheriff’s department."