New chief named in Spring Lake

FAYETTEVILLE They named an acting chief - Sgt. Mack Utley - to take the place of former chief A.C. Brown who resigned abruptly Wednesday.

The chief's resignation follows two big developments -- the arrest of two Spring Lake police officers, coupled with the Cumberland County Sheriff saying his office can't trust statements or information gathered by Spring Lake in its investigations.

Wednesday night, town employees put together dozens of cardboard boxes for files and evidence, while a locksmith was called in to change all the police department locks, including the evidence vault and filing cabinets.

Earlier in the day, a member of the police department accused Brown of staying late at the office Tuesday night to shred documents.

Around 4 p.m. Wednesday, Sheriff Earl "Moose" Butler hand delivered a court order to Spring Lake police, saying that on May 6, Chief Brown was seen at his office at 2:30 a.m. shredding material. It also said a day earlier, another police officer, Sgt. Mark Thomas, was seen shredding material from a filing cabinet.

The sheriff says the latest order prohibits any document from being destroyed.

"Well, the order has stated that they don't want any more documents shredded out here," Sheriff Butler said. "That's ordered by the DA and resident Superior Court Judge Lynn Johnson."

Sheriff Butler says Chief Brown denied doing anything wrong.

"He said he hadn't been shredding; he was getting ready to be prepared to move on," Sheriff Butler said. "He was not moving anything or destroying any documents that should not have been."

A sheriff's department spokesperson says it will be up to the SBI, not the sheriff's department, to enforce the latest court order.

Also earlier Wednesday, Sheriff Butler said in a strongly worded letter hand delivered to Spring Lake Police Chief A.C. Brown, that he can't trust statements or information gathered by Spring Lake in its investigations.

"The Cumberland County Sheriff's Office can no longer trust statements, information or reports from any member of the Spring Lake Police Department to establish an official investigation, to determine probable cause for an arrest, or to develop sufficient grounds for a bill of information or indictment. This simply means that the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office shall not adopt or accept any future criminal investigations initiated or conducted by the Spring Lake Police Department until further written notice," wrote Butler.

The sheriff said he wanted to make the policy clear to eliminate the possibility of any confusion or conflict of interest between his department and Spring Lake.

He also said Spring Lake police officers would not be allowed to go on any ride-alongs with deputies, will not be allowed to establish crime scenes, or exercise any police powers where a deputy is in command - or may assume command of the situation.

"In consideration of District Attorney Grannis’ statement that officers of the Spring Lake Police Department have shown a willingness to violate criminal law in their official capacity while on duty, to lack sufficient credibility in their official reports, and to exhibit the necessary integrity expected of a law enforcement agency, my Office can no longer rely upon the officers or the work product of the Spring Lake Police Department," wrote Butler.

The District Attorney's office also moved Wednesday to preserve all documents at the police department - getting a court order to prevent the destruction of any documents electronic or otherwise.

Spring Lake is a small community of about 8,000 located between Fayetteville and Raleigh. Two of its police officers - Sgt. Alphonzo Devonne Whittington, Jr. and Sgt. Darryl Eugene Coulter, Sr. - were arrested on Monday.

Coulter, 43, 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).

According to a grand jury indictment, the charges stem from an April 27, 2008, incident at a home on the 400 block of Vass Road.

Coulter allegedly broke into the home and assaulted three men. He forced them from the home with a handgun and a shotgun, kidnapped them, and then held them against their will by handcuffing them.

Coulter was supervising three other officers at the time and allegedly had no legal justification for what happened.

The indictments also allege that Coulter lied when he said he smelled marijuana during an investigation at local motel. Officers took $2,900 in cash from the room, and Sgt. Whittington is accused of later taking that cash from the department's evidence room.

Whittington, 32, 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). He is currently out on bond.

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.

It was also announced Monday that the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office has taken control of the police 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.

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