NAACP calls for wider Harnett County investigation

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The NAACP holds a news conference.

Speaking with reporters at a news conference in Lillington Monday, North Carolina NAACP President William Barber called on federal investigators to widen their probe of the Harnett County Sheriff's office - calling alleged problems "systemic" and "deeply-entrenched."

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The NAACP holds a news conference in Lillington.

Last week, federal investigators said they are getting involved after a grand jury declined last month to indict a Harnett County deputy in the shooting death of John Livingston II last November.

Livingston was shot on his West Everett Drive front porch during a fight with two Harnett County deputies who were reportedly looking for another man who had previously resided in the home.


A Harnett County grand jury heard the case in April and declined to indict Deputy Nicholas Kehagias. He could have faced second-degree murder charges.

As ABC11 first reported last year, there are questions about how the shooting death of 23-year-old Christian Griggs's October, 2013 shooting death at the hands of his father-in-law was handled by the Harnett County Sheriff's Office and the district attorney's office.


Before that, 24-year-old Brandon Bethea died in March 2011 after being shot with a Taser by a Harnett County detention officer in the county jail. No one was charged with a crime.

The cases led to an investigative series in the Raleigh News and Observer newspaper.


But the NAACP said Monday that it's not enough to look at a couple of individual cases. It has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights and Criminal Divisions for a comprehensive "Ferguson Missouri-type" investigation.

"Here is the question - and we're asking the Attorney General to do it - who polices the sheriff's office?" Barber asked.

Barber said media reports point to a "deeply-entrenched structure that has shown little respect for the constitutional rights of poor and working families in Harnett County."

He asked why public officials in the county have "turned their heads" when allegations were made.

"Who has been turning their head in Harnett County? Who has known about this? Who has had the power to challenge it? Who is policing the sheriff? That's the question," said Barber.

Barber called the allegations of heavy-handed tactics by deputies deeply troubling.

"Punishment is meted out in people's homes. That's not the American way where we are innocent until proven guilty," he offered.

Sheriff Wayne Coats, who took over from Sheriff Larry Rollins in March, has responded to the federal investigation of his office with a statement released Friday.


"We take these allegations very seriously and are taking action," wrote Coats.

He said he has retained an outside attorney to assist the department with:

1) Evaluating claims of misconduct
2) Reviewing protocols and procedures
3) Considering additional procedures

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