Profanity-laced police stop outrages family, social media

FOUR OAKS, NC (WTVD) -- A profanity-laced traffic stop turned drug arrest has gone viral on Facebook, and the family of the man arrested is calling for the Four Oaks Police Department to severely punish one of its officers.

The incident, captured on cell phone video, happened around 7:30 p.m. Saturday as police set up a two-hour driver's license checkpoint in the 800 block of E. Sanders Street.

During the final minute or so of the arrest captured on cell phone video, you can hear Lt. Tim Lebow cursing out Joshua Fillinger, a 37-year-old man stopped and arrested for drug possession.

Police said prior to Fillinger being tased, handcuffed, and placed on the ground, he'd assaulted Lebow by punching the officer in the face four times, kicked the three officers on scene, and attempted to spit on the female officer.

At least one eyewitness disputes the police description of the assault, saying Fillinger only shoved Lebow before the portion of the incident caught on camera.

The following is a transcript of the exchange:

Officer Lebow: "Shut the (expletive) up. (Inaudible). Hit me four times, you stupid (expletive).

Officer Lebow: "Bet you can't (inaudible). You're a God (expletive) lie. You try to get away, I'm going to finish you off."

Fillinger can then be heard from the ground pleading for an eyewitness to continue recording.

"Please continue videoing. Please continue videoing. Please continue videoing," he yells.

"They were cussin' at him and just treated him like no human should be treated," said Courtney Staring, the woman who captured the minute's worth of video on her cell phone and posted it to Facebook. "All this stuff happening with police across the country - I didn't believe it until I saw this."

"The officer that got hit was upset and used profanity," said Four Oaks Police Chief Stephen Anderson. "However we don't condone profanity and the officer has been disciplined."

Anderson, who declined an on-camera interview, said he could not go into specifics about how Lebow had been disciplined, citing personnel rules. Anderson did say that he trusts the story he was told by the three officers on scene, whom he spoke with upon returning from vacation on Sunday.

"If I had a bad officer, I would get rid of him," said Anderson, who has led the six-member department since January. "I don't have any bad cops."

Fillinger's father, who met with Anderson and the Four Oaks mayor on Monday, had different thoughts.

"You can arrest somebody without beating them up," said Steven Fillinger, Joshua's father. "You don't have to stand and scream at somebody just because you've got a badge and a gun. You don't have to."

LEADING UP TO THE CELL PHONE FOOTAGE

Staring said she drove up on the commotion because she had to pick up her husband. He had been stopped and cited for driving without a license prior to Fillinger's stop.

Staring's husband described to her a brief tussle between Lebow and Fillinger, but it was nothing like the story Four Oaks police on scene described.

Anderson said when Fillinger came up to the checkpoint, he had an odor of marijuana, and his officers asked the man to pull off. During an attempted frisk, Anderson said Fillinger tried kicking the officers before running. When Lebow caught him by the shirt, Anderson said Fillinger punched Lebow four times in the face, causing Lebow to pull his taser on the man.

When Fillinger fell, Lebow and another male officer held him down, while a female officer handcuffed him.

A plastic bag with cocaine, ecstasy, and another narcotic was allegedly in Fillinger's back pocket, but Anderson could not confirm whether Fillinger was under the influence of drugs at the time of the incident.

When Fillinger tried to get up, Anderson said he also tried spitting on the female officer. One of the male officers pushed his jaw shut, according to Anderson. Fillinger continued kicking.

Anderson said he didn't know how long the altercation lasted before what was seen on video: Fillinger pleading for Staring to record as he's handcuffed on gravel and cursed out by Lebow.

When Anderson met with Lebow on Sunday, the officer did not have any visible injuries from the incident. Still, Anderson said you cannot judge the entire event from the short video.

"It's rare that the video ever catches (an incident) in its entirety," said Anderson. "I just feel like you never get the whole story. It's all what people perceive from what they see (in the limited video)."

Anderson said the officers' body cameras were not recording at the time. The department has had $60 test cams for about three months, and they usually don't run them during a lengthy, routine checkpoint, Anderson said.

"We are going to look into doing some things differently," Anderson said, noting the department's attempt to land a grant for quality body cameras.

MEETING WITH THE MAYOR

Joshua Fillinger was arrested and charged with drug possession, intent to sell, and assault charges tied to the incident. He is in the Johnston County jail under a $115,000 bond.

On Monday, Fillinger's father drove to Four Oaks from his home two hours away to complain about the incident with the town's mayor, Linwood Parker.

Fillinger, who said his son can barely open one of his eyes, said he was not making excuses for his son's wrongdoing, but he loathed the way the arrest was made.

"You got the guy on the ground. You don't need to tase him twice on the ground," said Fillinger. "You don't need to beat him, and you don't need to talk to him like a dog."

During the initial morning visit, Fillinger said he and the police blew up at one another and there were no plans for an investigation. That changed hours later, as Anderson said some sort of disciplinary action had been taken, but the case was closed.

Parker said a second afternoon meeting was planned with the town's police commissioner in order to figure out the next steps with the family.

It was unclear whether the Fillinger family planned to pursue legal action, as Fillinger said he needed to make an initial visit his son in the Johnston County jail.

"The young man made a mistake both by running from the police as well as the substances that he had, but that doesn't change the facts," said Parker. "And the facts are that we want to be professional in what we do."

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