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Spring Lake officials back probe of police department

Spring Lake officials tried Thursday to help the town's police department recover from the resignation of its chief and the arrests of two officers.

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SPRING LAKE, N.C. — Spring Lake officials tried Thursday to help the town's police department recover from the resignation of its chief and the arrests of two officers.

After a 90-minute closed-door meeting with a lawyer, Mayor Ethel Clark and the Board of Aldermen decided to name an interim police chief, determine the costs of having the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office provide law enforcement for the town and urge investigators to continue rooting out any corruption in the police department.

Cumberland County deputies assumed control of law enforcement in Spring Lake on Monday, following the arrests of two officers on a variety of charges. Four deputies patrol the town on each shift, and a mobile command post has been set up at the Spring Lake Library.

Late Tuesday, Spring Lake Police Chief A.C. Brown resigned amid allegations he was shredding files.

"It's a sad situation when a law enforcement agency is having the problems they're having," Cumberland County Sheriff Earl "Moose" Butler said.

Spring Lake officials named Sgt. Mack Utley III as acting police chief. They also instructed Town Manager Larry Faison to work with county officials to determine the proper level of law enforcement for the town and the cost of providing such services.

"I hope that we can start going forward, trying to get back on track, the way it needs to be. I'm going to do my best to help in that process," Utley said.

Officials asked Utley to review all personnel and conduct an assessment of the department. They also commended the State Bureau of Investigation for its two-year probe of the police department and asked that the investigation continue "to ensure any person in a trusted position in the police department be held accountable for their criminal actions."

Indictments allege that Sgt. Darryl Eugene Coulter Sr. participated in an April 2008 home invasion in which three men were held at gunpoint and that he asked subordinate officers to falsify a report about a September raid on a motel room in which $2,900 was seized. Sgt. Alphonzo Devonne Whittington Jr. allegedly stole that money from the police department's evidence room and tried to cover it up, according to an indictment.

On Wednesday, Superior Court Judge E. Lynn Johnson ordered the SBI to take control of all police files, including computer and cell phone records, after witnesses reported seeing Brown and one of his officers shredding files late Tuesday and early Wednesday.

Officials called in a locksmith late Wednesday to change about a dozen locks in the police department, including those to several offices and the evidence room.

Brown, who had been with the Spring Lake Police Department since the 1990s and became chief in 2004, told Butler that he and Sgt. Mark Thomas were shredding personal documents and not official files.

"I'm going to miss him because he's been around here for quite a while," said Clark, who said Monday that the chief had her full support. "He felt it was in the best interest of the town that he resign."

Because more than 20 Spring Lake officers remain on the job, Butler issued a directive that the officers not initiate criminal cases or set up crime scenes.

Cumberland County District Attorney Ed Grannis has dismissed all pending misdemeanor cases in Spring Lake, saying that he suspects senior officers of lying and directing other officers to fabricate facts in police reports.


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