Local News

Mayor: Spring Lake irate over police department takeover

Posted May 5, 2009 8:42 a.m. EDT
Updated May 5, 2009 10:25 a.m. EDT

— Town residents are upset over the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office move Monday to assume control of the Spring Lake Police Department, Mayor Ethel Clark said.

The takeover came as state agents arrested two Spring Lake officers on charges ranging from embezzlement and obstruction of justice to kidnapping and breaking and entering.

"(They are) irate, not about the police department but what's being done to the police department," Clark said.

Sgt. Darryl Eugene Coulter Sr. and Sgt. Alphonzo Devonne Whittington Jr. were being held Tuesday in the Cumberland County Jail, and a spokeswoman for the sheriff's office said more arrests were expected in the case.

Chief District Judge Elizabeth Keever wrote in a memo to county magistrates that Coulter and Whittington were indicted on charges linked to alleged actions that occurred while they were on duty.

Cumberland County District Attorney Ed Grannis dismissed all pending misdemeanor cases in Spring Lake, saying the 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," Grannis said.

Two years ago, at Grannis' urging, another judge stripped Spring Lake of the authority to handle felony investigations and put those cases in the hands of sheriff's investigators. That followed a botched homicide investigation involving a 3-year-old.

Spring Lake Police Chief A.C. Brown still holds that position, Grannis said, declining to speculate on the future of the town's 20-plus officers.

Clark said she supports Brown and has no plans to seek his resignation. She also denied speculation that she would step down as mayor.

"Why would the actions of two officers discredit me as mayor?" she said.

Sheriff Earl "Moose" Butler said four deputies would work on each shift in Spring Lake for as long as necessary. His 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.

The Cumberland County Board of Commissioners issued a statement Tuesday supporting the police department takeover and urging a quick resolution to the problems plaguing the department.

“The Cumberland County Board of Commissioners will support the Sheriff’s Office in providing law enforcement protection to the citizens of Spring Lake during a limited transition period of approximately 30 days,” Chairwoman Jeannette Council said in the statement.

“The commissioners urge the leaders of Spring Lake to contract with the sheriff to provide basic law enforcement services to Spring Lake until the Spring Lake Police Department can resume its role as a fully functioning law enforcement agency,” Council wrote.