Local News

Hostage expert says officers must be firm, not abusive

Posted February 28, 2011 10:41 p.m. EST
Updated March 1, 2011 7:21 a.m. EST

— Law enforcement officers must treat every person leaving a hostage situation as a threat, said a national hostage recovery expert in the wake of allegations that Cary police brutalized a man after he was released from a bank standoff earlier this month.

Danny Coulson, former deputy assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, created the agency's first hostage rescue team. Though he wouldn't comment directly on the complaint filed against Cary police, alleging that officers roughed up Rev. Lee Everett because they mistook him for the hostage taker, Coulson said police officers must be “firm” in hostage situations.

"How do you handle hostages in a hostage situation? You do it firmly. You do it professionally, and it's not abusive," Coulson said. "They put you on the ground, and they should do that."

He said anyone leaving the scene of a police standoff must be treated as a suspect or accomplice until proven otherwise.

"The person coming out of there is scared to death. They may act irrationally and that irrational behavior can key some kind of response on the part of the officer that maybe it's the bad guy," Coulson said.

Still, he stressed, "firmness doesn't mean brutality."

Everett, who is black, said he believes he was treated differently from the six other hostages, who are white. 

Cary police declined to be interviewed, but town spokeswoman Susan Moran said Saturday that the town has asked the Wake County District Attorney's Office and State Bureau of Investigation to look into these allegations, so "everyone would have the trust and confidence in the police department and their actions."

"We take it extremely seriously. And if we find that we have staff members that haven't upheld our expectations, they are gone," Moran said.

The results of the investigation will be posted on the town of Cary's website for the public to see, she added.

Police say that Devon Mitchell, 19, claimed to have a gun and held seven people hostage at a Wachovia bank on Feb. 10. He let five hostages, including Everett, leave over the course of three hours.

Police later determined that Mitchell was not armed. He was fatally shot by officers as he left the bank with a female hostage.