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SHARPSBURG — Four people alleging unfair treatment from town police addressed Sharpsburg commissioners Tuesday, and Mayor Randy Weaver vowed to investigate the claims.
Police Chief John Hunt said reports and video recordings of the incidents will show officers acted appropriately in each case.
“We’ve got to do our job,” Hunt said after the meeting. “My main thing is to keep peace and make sure we have a safe community...If you violate the law, we will enforce it. I will not turn my head on it.”
ASSAULT ON AN OFFICER
Debra Etheridge, who was charged after police say she struck Sharpsburg officers responding to a July 24 domestic violence complaint involving her daughter, denied committing the assault.
“They locked me up for assault on a government official and I hadn’t touched that man,” Etheridge told commissioners.
Etheridge said her daughter called Wilson County sheriff’s deputies to report a domestic disturbance and the call was transferred to Sharpsburg police.
“When the officer arrived we told him it was all right,” Etheridge recalled. “He said (police) weren’t going nowhere because he got a call for this.”
Hunt said officers observed fighting in the yard and people ran inside the house when a police car pulled up. Because police witnessed the disturbance, he said they were obligated to investigate.
After the responding officer called for backup, Etheridge said she locked the door. She said police warned they would knock the door down if they were not allowed inside.
Etheridge said things became tense when her daughter was asked for identification and fled the scene.
“When she couldn’t find (her ID) she ran out the back,” Etheridge said. “They threatened to lock her up.”
Hunt said Etheridge was interfering with the investigation into a domestic assault and was placed in handcuffs.
Another person who was inside the house recorded the incident in a video posted to Facebook. Hunt said that video shows Etheridge screaming and cursing at police, falling to the ground and tussling with two officers. Hunt said police also have body camera video from the altercation.
Etheridge is charged with felony assault causing injury to a law enforcement officer and misdemeanor resisting a public officer, according to Wilson County court records.
TOW TRUCK FAVORITISM?
Patrice Perry of Elm City said Sharpsburg police refused to let her choose her own tow truck service after she was stopped July 15 in a car with an invalid license plate that her father had recently bought her.
“I didn’t have my tag. I knew it was not right,” she said. “I didn’t ask them to let me drive the car home, I wanted to call somebody to pull it.”
Perry said police called Taylor’s Wrecker and Service Center in Sharpsburg to tow the vehicle. She complained about the company’s fees for towing and storage and told commissioners she should have been allowed to call the wrecker service of her choice.
Ricardo Dew, a Wilson community activist, and Robert L. Williams Jr., a Sharpsburg resident who is challenging Weaver in November’s mayoral election, both told commissioners that it’s standard police protocol to let drivers contact towing companies independently and to maintain a list of wrecker services that officers call on a regular rotation when a driver doesn’t arrange for a car’s removal.
Williams, a former Rocky Mount police officer, questioned the Sharpsburg Police Department’s relationship with the wrecker service.
“Is Taylor’s garage a substation for the police department? Because every morning I go to the post office, you’ve got two cars there. So I think they need to distance themselves and put them on rotation and this will solve your problem.”
After the meeting, Hunt said the police department has a wrecker rotation list, but acknowledged Taylor’s is the first company police call because it’s the only tow truck service based in the Sharpsburg town limits.
“He gets first dibs, but I’m doing everything by the book,” Hunt said. “We didn’t get no kickbacks, we ain’t doing none of that. He does it because he’s the only wrecker here. Until we get another wrecker that shows up and (does) prompt business, then we’ll divide it up.”
DIRT BIKE SEIZED
Bertha Parker said a Sharpsburg officer seized her 14-year-old grandson’s dirt bike on Sept. 8 and impounded it at the police department. She told commissioners that police refused to return the dirt bike and said it was being held as evidence, but said her grandson has not been cited or charged.
The Wilson Times is not naming the teenager because he is a juvenile involved in a police investigation and he did not address the town board during the public meeting.
Utility vehicles such as dirt bikes and four-wheelers are treated as motorcycles when operated on roads and streets. Riders must have a valid driver’s license with a motorcycle endorsement in order to ride on public property, according to North Carolina law.
Hunt said Parker’s grandson had previously been cited for unlawfully operating the dirt bike and said he would take out a juvenile petition against the teen this week.
Barbara Etheridge told commissioners she was a passenger in a car Chief Hunt stopped at a car wash on Jan. 27. She claimed the chief cursed at the driver and pulled her out of the vehicle when her foot was still on the brake.
The mayor asked why the complaint was being made nearly nine months after the incident and told Etheridge he would like to speak to the woman who was driving the car.
“I will investigate these to the fullest of my abilities starting tomorrow,” Weaver told attendees Tuesday.
He said he and Randall Collie, the commissioner who oversees the police department, would interview Hunt and the officers named in the complaints.
Joining Dew at the meeting to speak collectively for dissatisfied residents was Curmilus Dancy, a community activist and blogger. Dancy recorded the meeting and said he would post the video to his YouTube channel.