Local News

Indictments: Officers lied, stole, brandished guns

Posted May 5, 2009 12:13 p.m. EDT
Updated May 5, 2009 9:41 p.m. EDT

— One Spring Lake police officer held three men at gunpoint, and a second officer stole money and lied to cover it up, according to indictments handed down Monday by a Cumberland County grand jury.

Sgt. Darryl Eugene Coulter Sr. and Sgt. Alphonzo Devonne Whittington Jr. were arrested Monday and were being held Tuesday in the Cumberland County Jail. A spokeswoman for the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office said more arrests were expected in the case.

According to an indictment, Coulter forced his way into a residence at 427 Vass Road on April 27, 2008, assaulted three men who were inside, pointed a handgun and shotgun at the men, forcibly removed them from the house and handcuffed them against their will. He was charged with three counts each of second-degree kidnapping, simple assault, assault with a deadly weapon, assault by pointing a gun and false imprisonment and one count each of felonious breaking and entering, felonious obstruction of justice and willfully failing to discharge duties.

Coulter, a 10-year veteran of the Spring Lake Police Department, was charged in a second indictment with felony obstruction of justice and willfully failing to discharge duties. Those charges stemmed from a Sept. 17 call at a Sleep Inn motel in which he allegedly told subordinate officers to lie about smelling marijuana in a room where the officers seized $2,900.

Whittington, who has been with the department for four years, was accused in an indictment of stealing that $2,900 from the department's evidence room between Sept. 17 and Jan. 28, falsifying records to cover up the theft and reprimanding another officer who wouldn't also alter records. He is charged with three counts of felonious obstruction of justice, two counts of willfully failing to discharge duties and one count each of embezzlement by a public officer, obtaining property by false pretense, felonious larceny, larceny by trick, larceny by employee and solicitation of another to commit a felony.

Sources told WRAL News that the incident at the Sleep Inn was a State Bureau of Investigation sting. The SBI has been investigating the Spring Lake Police Department for two years.

The Cumberland County Sheriff's Office assumed control of the police department Monday. Sheriff Earl "Moose" Butler said four deputies would work on each shift in Spring Lake for as long as necessary, and his office set up a mobile command post at the Spring Lake Library.

Spring Lake Police Chief A.C. Brown couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday morning. He and other officers were at work – some were seen driving around town in their patrol cars – although it was unclear what law enforcement authority they held.

Mayor Ethel Clark said she supports Brown and has no plans to seek his resignation.

Still, lifelong Spring Lake resident Natasha Lyle said the police department is an embarrassment, and it's time for new blood.

"What is the world coming to?" Lyle said. "They need to take care of it. They need to nip it in the bud."

Cumberland County District Attorney Ed Grannis requested the SBI investigation, saying a conversation between a Spring Lake officer and a county deputy about narcotics enforcement raised concerns about the police department's ability to investigate crimes.

At Grannis' urging, a judge two years ago stripped Spring Lake of the authority to handle felony investigations, following a botched homicide investigation involving a 3-year-old. Those cases were put in the hands of sheriff's investigators.

Grannis has 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.