Local News

Raleigh attorney alleges trooper misconduct in letter to Perdue

Posted June 29, 2011 3:26 p.m. EDT
Updated June 29, 2011 7:07 p.m. EDT

— The North Carolina State Highway Patrol is investigating a trooper's conduct following a letter from a Raleigh attorney to the governor and more than two dozen local and state officials in which the attorney claims his wife was harassed and intimidated during a traffic stop last week.

Hoyt Tessener wrote in the eight-page letter that Senior Trooper Edward Wyrick stopped his wife, Gina Tessener, in Wilmington last Tuesday for a faulty headlight and accused her of driving while impaired when she had not been drinking.

Two alcohol breath tests each registered a 0.00, the couple said, but she wasn't allowed to leave until she went before a magistrate, who yelled at and threatened her.

"She wasn't drinking, and yet, she gets arrested for DWI, and as she gets taken away, I get pulled over by another highway patrolman," Tessener said Wednesday. "If this happens to her, it can happen to anybody. It's our responsibility to let people know."

Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Jeff Gordon said in an email Wednesday that agency's Internal Affairs Unit is looking into Tessener's complaint and that Wyrick, who has been with the Highway Patrol in Wilmington since 2006, remains on active duty.

"That investigation, which is now in progress, will be fair, impartial and thorough," Gordon said, declining to comment further.

Wyrick could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Gina Tessener said that she had left a gala for the North Carolina Advocates for Justice convention on the evening of June 21 when Wyrick pulled her over and told her he smelled alcohol on her breath.

She said she told the trooper that she had not been drinking and refused to do a field sobriety test at the time because she was wearing high heels and an evening dress and the road was covered in gravel, her husband wrote.

She also didn't feel comfortable taking the test without a witness because Wyrick insisted that he smelled alcohol when she knew she hadn't been drinking.

"The power that he showed and the authority that he exercised was not for the best benefit of me, and I never felt safe when I was in his presence," Gina Tessener said. "It was degrading the way he was talking to me. I felt like I had cooperated. It was quite obvious I hadn't been drinking, and I didn't really know where he was going with this, and I didn't trust him."

Eventually, Wyrick arrested her on a DWI charge, the couple said, and handcuffed her so tight that she had a mark on her wrist.

After the 0.00 blood-alcohol concentration reading, Wyrick became agitated and refused to let Gina Tessener leave, she said.

"He just clenched up (after the first test). His eyes got narrow, his jaw tightened, and I'm sitting there thinking, 'I don't know why there's a second Breathalyzer,’" Hoyt Tessener said. "I watched them take Gina, put her in handcuffs, and I'm thinking, 'Why is this? She's certainly no threat.'"

Hoyt Tessener said he wrote his letter to Gov. Bev Perdue, as well as Attorney General Roy Cooper, Crime Control and Public Safety Secretary Reuben Young, Highway Patrol Commander Col. Michael Gilchrist and others, because he doesn't want what happened to his wife to happen to anyone else.

"You shouldn't be running away from the Highway Patrol. They're the people you're supposed to run to when you're in trouble," he said.

The Highway Patrol's image has been plagued in recent years by a number of high-profile cases involving state troopers who have resigned, been fired or been disciplined for inappropriate or questionable conduct, including profiling, drunken driving, animal abuse, sex on duty and inappropriate text messages.

In wake of the incidents, Perdue called for restructuring the agency and issued a zero-tolerance policy for trooper misconduct, requiring ethics training for all troopers, in addition to them pledging to follow a code of conduct.

Hoyt Tessener said that, although he understands the need for an internal investigation into the allegations, he's disappointed that Wyrick is still on patrol.

"I think what happens (with the investigation) will let us know whether this is a rogue trooper or whether this is a policy of the Highway Patrol," he said. "I do not want to think that it's the policy of the Highway Patrol. I don't want this to happen to anyone else again."