Police officers arrested, dept takeover

SPRING LAKE Public Information Officer Noelle Talley confirms to Eyewitness News that the SBI arrested two Spring Lake Police Officers, Sgt. Alphonzo Devonne Whittington, Jr. and Sgt. Darryl Eugene Coulter, Sr., on Monday.

Whittington, 32, is being held at the Cumberland County Jail under $100,000 bond. He is charged with; 1 count of felony embezzlement, 1 count of obtaining property by false pretense, 3 counts of felony larceny, 3 counts of felony obstruction of justice, 2 counts of willful failure to discharge duty (a misdemeanor), and 1 count of solicitation to commit a felony (a misdemeanor).

Coulter, 43, is being held at the Cumberland County Jail under $250,000 bond. He is charged with; 2 counts of felony obstruction of justice, 3 counts of second degree kidnapping (a felony), 1 count of felony breaking and entering, 2 counts of willful failure to discharge duty (a misdemeanor), 3 counts of simple assault (a misdemeanor), 3 counts of assault with a deadly weapon (a misdemeanor), 3 counts of assault by pointing a gun (a misdemeanor), and 3 counts of false imprisonment (a misdemeanor).

Officials say future indictments and arrests are likely.

The arrests are the result of an ongoing investigation by the SBI that began in 2007. The investigation was initiated at the request of the Cumberland County District Attorney.

Eyewitness News has learned the DA plans to dismiss more than 1000 misdemeanor cases, because he suspects some senior officers lied and fabricated facts in police reports.

"I think we have an ongoing investigation so I can't comment on the specifics, but I think the facts speak for themselves," District Attorney Ed Grannis said.

Officials also announced at a 3 p.m. news conference Monday that the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office will be taking over the department.

Cumberland was already handling many of Spring Lake's cases because it lost its felony investigative powers 18 months ago. That came after problems with the investigation into the death of 3-year-old Anikah Burr. Prosecutors say she was murdered by her mother's boyfriend in 2006. The case has yet to come to trial.

Cumberland County Sheriff Moose Butler has told Eyewitness News in past interviews that taking on Spring Lake's cases has put a strain on his department. He's asked county commissioners to increase his funding to cover the additional expenses.

Tuesday, Jeannette M. Council, Chairman of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners, issued a statement:

"In view of the developments yesterday affecting the Spring Lake Police Department, I have contacted the Spring Lake Mayor and the Sheriff to assure them that the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners will support the Sheriff's Office in providing law enforcement protection to the citizens of Spring Lake during a limited transition period of approximately 30 days. The Commissioners urge the leaders of Spring Lake to contract with the Sheriff to provide basic law enforcement services to Spring Lake until the Spring Lake Police Department can resume its role as a fully functioning law enforcement agency." – Jeannette M. Council, Chairman, Cumberland County Board of Commissioners

In the meantime, the Sheriff says Spring Lake residents can rest assured law enforcement is being handled.

"Cumberland County Sheriff's Office has people on the streets now and we will be doing the patrols," Sheriff Earl Moose Butler said.

For now the sheriff's department is operating out of its mobile command center.

At this time city leaders aren't sure what will happen to the chief and police department.

"We are formalizing a plan as we speak, so just give us a little time," Mayor Ethel Clark said.

On Friday, Spring Lake Town Manager Larry Faison accused the media of giving the police department a bad image. On Monday, Faison refused to meet with reporters, but he later issued a statement saying the town is trying to determine the best course of action.

Meanwhile, Spring Lake Officers say they aren't sure just what their jobs are now.

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