Three police officers to be charged for off-duty crimes

Posted 5/5/21

PITTSBORO — The Pittsboro Police Department is nearing completion of a month-long investigation involving three Chatham law enforcement officers who were caught firing their weapons in public while …

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Three police officers to be charged for off-duty crimes

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Posted

PITTSBORO — The Pittsboro Police Department is nearing completion of a month-long investigation involving three Chatham law enforcement officers who were caught firing their weapons in public while intoxicated, according to Chief Shorty Johnson.

“We’re getting toward the end and there will be criminal charges forthcoming,” Johnson told the News + Record.

On Sunday, April 11, Pittsboro police and members of the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office responded to reports of gunfire on West Salisbury Street. They found three off-duty police officers at the scene — two Sheriff’s Office deputies and a sergeant with the Siler City Police Department. Enough evidence was collected to suggest at least one of the officers was responsible for the fired shots, according to a statement from the Sheriff’s Office.

The off-duty officers, who had several firearms with them, were initially uncooperative, the press release said, and had been consuming alcohol, but they were not arrested at the time.

“We started our investigation right then, but no charges were brought that night,” Johnson said. “We’ve had to talk to some witnesses and get some video and other stuff to do a complete investigation.”

Johnson was not at liberty to identify the three officers under investigation, he told the News + Record.

“I can’t say right now,” he said, “but I should be having a press release coming shortly and it’ll have the people’s names and what we’ve charged them with.”

In addition to the criminal investigation still underway by Pittsboro PD, the Sheriff’s Office launched an internal investigation immediately following the incident into its two deputies found at the scene. Both were initially suspended, according to Sheriff Mike Roberson. Three days later, they were officially dismissed for dishonesty and multiple policy violations.

“As law enforcement, we must be good stewards of public trust,” Roberson said in the same statement. “Our internal investigation was handled swiftly and professionally, and we feel the final decision was the right one. Dishonesty or criminal behavior will not be tolerated within the ranks of the Sheriff’s Office.”

Roberson is pursuing the possibility of criminal charges against his ex-employees in partnership with the district attorney.

The Siler City Police Department is also conducting an internal investigation into the SCPD sergeant found at the scene, Chief Mike Wagner confirmed for the News + Record, but he could not discuss further details.

“We may never have all of the answers, but we can take this as an opportunity to pause and reflect on what we can do differently going forward,” Roberson said. “These young men had seemingly bright, long careers ahead of them — but it can be a struggle to meet the high demands and expectations associated with this job. As law enforcement, we are trained that firearms and alcohol do not mix. However, we must do more as a profession to help officers cope with negative thoughts or emotions in positive, constructive ways.”

While a number of shots were fired, no bystanders were injured nor was any property damaged.

“Fortunately, no one was hurt,” Johnson said, “and no damage was reported to any of the buildings or vehicles or anything around.”

The crime comes at a time of heightened national scrutiny of police officers following Derek Chauvin’s trial in Minnesota for murdering George Floyd, other high-profile charges against police officers around the county and the killing of Andrew Brown Jr. by law enforcement officers in Elizabeth City on April 21. While the police may have a reputation for lenience within their ranks, Johnson said, his department — and all Chatham law enforcement agencies — take seriously their commitment to impartiality.

“We treat everyone the same, whether they’re a law enforcement officer not,” he said. “I know some people say that we take longer to charge law enforcement officers than we do the normal public ... But we just want to make sure that we did a complete investigation, overturned every rock, made sure that we had everything in order, before we took charges out on someone — and that would have been the case even if it wasn’t someone with law enforcement.”

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com and on Twitter @dldolder.

 

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