Local News

Wake deputy fired after pleading guilty to unleashing K-9 on unarmed man

Posted May 13, 2019 10:38 a.m. EDT
Updated May 13, 2019 5:13 p.m. EDT

— A Wake County deputy who last year unleashed his K-9 on an irrational man in the middle of a Raleigh street pleaded guilty Monday to failing to carry out his duties.

As part of a plea agreement, Cameron Broadwell ended his law enforcement career, permanently surrendering his certification.

Sheriff Gerald Baker fired him about six hours later and promised that changes in his agency's policy regarding the use of K-9s would be coming soon.

Broadwell commanded his K-9 to go after Kyron Hinton during an April 3, 2018, encounter, and prosecutors said he also struck Hinton in the head three times in the ensuing scrum in which several law enforcement officers tried to get Hinton into custody.

Prosecutors dismissed felony charges of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury and assault inflicting serious injury against Broadwell in exchange for his guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of willfully failing to discharge his duties.

"This persecution of him put him in a position of making a decision of whether he protected his family by entering this plea or continue to go to trial and risk the conviction of a felony," defense attorney Rick Gammon said after the court hearing. "These matters should have been handled in somewhere other than a criminal courtroom."

Hinton was acting irrationally, yelling and pointing at passing cars as he stood in the middle of North Raleigh Boulevard, near the intersection of Yonkers Street, according to several people who called 911. A couple of the callers said they thought he had a gun in his hand.

Defense attorneys told jurors last week at the start of his trial on the three charges that Broadwell thought Hinton was armed when he arrived at the scene and made a split-second decision to use his K-9 to protect the public and other law enforcement officers.

But four Raleigh police officers and a State Highway Patrol trooper who were already at the scene and had surrounded Hinton testified that he didn't pose any threat. They said he had a cellphone, not a gun, in his hand and that he clearly was either on mind-altering drugs or suffering a severe mental break, based on the "gibberish" with religious undertones that he was shouting.

The officers said they had called for a supervisor and were trying to formulate a plan of action to take Hinton into custody so he could be committed to a psychiatric facility when Broadwell showed up and almost immediately unleashed his K-9 on Hinton without conferring with them.

"Basically, the dog came out. That action was not communicated to us that the K-9 was going to be utilized on Mr. Hinton," Officer M.N. Klingenmaier said, adding that it "sped up the scenario."

"While you were there, did you feel that Kyron Hinton was an immediate threat to you?" Wake County Assistant District Attorney Patrick Latour asked Officer J.W. Gomes.

"To me, no," the officer replied.

"Was he a threat before the defendant let that dog loose?" Latour asked.

"To me, no,” Gomes replied.

Broadwell choked back tears while entering a guilty plea but made no comment in court other than responding to Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway's questions.

"We're here because of something that happened on one night," defense attorney Joe Zeszotarski told Ridgeway during sentencing.

Broadwell was a 10-year veteran of the sheriff's office and was a model deputy – he had no previous excessive force allegations – husband, father and friend, Zeszotarski said.

"None of that affects April 3 and the questions that were raised," he said, "but I do think it reflects, your honor, on Mr. Broadwell and what type of person he is."

Zeszotarski asked for no punishment beyond Broadwell surrendering his law enforcement certification.

"He has given up his career forever," Zeszotarski said. "It's what he always wanted to do, and now, he does not get to do it."

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman called Broadwell's actions "unnecessary, excessive and against the policies of" the Wake County Sheriff's Office.

"Fortunately, we have well-trained individuals who often – more often than not – are able to take people in crisis into medical custody without incident," Freeman said.

She said wants the Wake County Sheriff's Office to re-evaluate its K-9 policy as to how and when dogs are used.

"Our objective has been to try and have some accountability here, that what happened that evening should not have happened, and to ensure that Mr. Broadwell walks away from his law enforcement career," Freeman said after the court hearing.

Baker said the sheriff's office would continue to use K-9s, noting dogs are useful in searching for lost people and fleeing criminals and in searching for drugs and explosives. The agency needs to ensure K-9s are used "in the right way." the sheriff said, so policies are being adjusted and K-9 deputies will soon undergo additional training.

"This incident has re-energized this office. We are re-committed and focused on moving forward and to make sure we improve our policies and the accountability of this office, which was quite obvious to many people were somewhat ineffective," he said.

Baker called it "a sad day" for the sheriff's office, calling Broadwell "a great officer" for whom he has "a great deal of respect." He said he had been under pressure since taking office in December to fire Broadwell, but he wanted to let the criminal case run its course.

Ridgeway sentenced Broadwell to 45 days in jail, suspended to a year on unsupervised probation, and ordered him to perform 200 hours of community service.

Members of Hinton's family said they agreed to the plea deal and were satisfied with the outcome of the case.

Hinton died in February of a suspected overdose after receiving an $83,000 settlement from Wake County over the deputy's actions.

Hinton "suffered from many demons and was not perfect," Freeman said, but he did have a family who loved him.

"He's not on the street," Shannon Utley, the mother of Hinton's 8-year-old daughter, said of Broadwell. "This will not happen again to anyone else by him. But we still have to work to make sure that it doesn't happen by other officers."

Diana Powell, executive director of Justice Served NC, an advocacy group that backed Hinton, agreed.

"It has to stop, and we will hold them accountable on levels. It has to stop," Powell said. "We count this as a victory that Broadwell will never be able to work in law enforcement again. He will never be able to put another dog on another human being."

Gammon said he believes law enforcement is unfairly under fire.

"Police should be held accountable for crimes that they commit, but there is nothing in Cameron Broadwell's background that would suggest that he had any bad motive other than trying to protect the Raleigh police officers and the highway patrolman that were on the scene that night," Gammon said. "He became a law enforcement officer for the right reasons – because he wanted to give back to the community and he wanted to do something good with his life.

"Anyone who is considering going into this profession, they need to get another line of work because this is just the beginning," he added.

Two Highway Patrol troopers, Michael Blake and Tabithia Davis, still face charges of felony assault and willfully failing to discharge duties in Hinton's assault. The patrol fired both last June.

The Highway Patrol also fired Sgt. Rodney Goswick, who, along with Blake and Davis, are charged with lying to patrol investigators about their use of force during Hinton's arrest.