Perdue: A few troopers are 'killing' highway patrol's image

Staff WriterJuly 8, 2010 

  • Problems at the patrol

    Here are some of the unflattering disclosures since Bev Perdue became governor:

    Maj. Everett Clendenin: The patrol's spokesman for much of the last decade, Clendenin resigned June 23 after he sent more than 2,600 messages, many of them sexually explicit, to his secretary.

    Capt. James Williams Jr.: Williams, who supervised patrol operations in a 12-county area that includes Wake, was fired May 13 after he was caught driving drunk while off duty on Interstate 85. Three officers from Butner Public Safety, a state agency, were also fired for failing to arrest Williams, deciding instead to give the trooper a ride to a nearby motel.

    Trooper Larry B. Lovick: Lovick, of Raleigh, resigned June 7. He is under investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation after a report of criminal misconduct against a woman during a May traffic stop. The patrol has refused to release further information about the incident.

    Master Trooper Timothy S. Stiwinter: Stiwinter resigned June 25 after being charged by Asheville police with drunken driving and felony hit and run. A trooper since 1999, Stiwinter was arrested after a late-night wreck in which a vehicle ran a red light and hit a car, before leaving the scene. Stiwinter, who was off duty at the time, was later stopped by a police officer, who smelled alcohol on the trooper's breath and noted that he appeared unsteady.

    Trooper Anthony Scott: Scott was fired in February. He had been at the home of a Pittsboro lawyer with whom he was having a relationship when her estranged husband showed up, choked her and threatened her with a gun. Scott, who was on duty, failed to intervene.

    Trooper Ronald Ezzell Jr.: The patrol dismissed Ezzell, a helicopter pilot and 19-year veteran in February 2009 after he showed a doctored photo of a naked boy with a large penis to a state credit union teller, claiming it was a childhood snapshot of himself. He was in uniform and in a patrol car at the time.

    Trooper Shawn C. Houston: Houston, who lives in Granite Falls, was charged in October with cruelty to animals and injury to real property, both misdemeanors, after he trapped his neighbor's 5-month-old kitten and shot it to death. The patrol dismissed him in January.

    Trooper Timothy J. White: White, of Salisbury, was fired in June 2009 after he had a drunken sexual encounter with another trooper's wife in the back seat of a car headed home from a Christmas party. The woman's husband was in the front seat at the time.

    Trooper Thomas C. Wetherington: A trooper since 2007, Wetherington was fired in August over lying about the fate of a campaign hat lost by the side of the highway at night.

  • "On my honor, I will never betray my badge, my integrity, my character, or the public trust. I will always have the courage to hold myself and others accountable for our actions. I will always uphold the constitution, my community, and the agency I serve."

— Gov. Bev Perdue had tough talk Wednesday about a spate of behavioral problems at the N.C. Highway Patrol, saying she will have no tolerance for troopers who drive drunk, have sex on duty or assault women.

She said that all troopers will get ethics training and sign a code of conduct. And the governor stood steadfastly by the agency's commander, Col. Randy Glover.

Perdue assigned Glover and Secretary of Crime Control Reuben Young to provide her with a plan within 60 days to restructure the patrol's leadership, which she said had become too concentrated in the state capital. Young and Glover will also visit each of the patrol's eight district troops within the next two weeks to reinforce the governor's "zero tolerance" message.

Perdue spoke after meeting with about 160 patrol supervisors from across the state who had assembled in Raleigh. She was in the closed-door meeting with the troopers less than 23 minutes, where she said she told them about "the new normal in North Carolina."

"I just said to them very directly and very plainly, that perception is reality in North Carolina," Perdue said, facing a bank of television cameras. "Although I continue to believe that 99.9 percent of the men and women of the North Carolina Highway Patrol are doing tremendous work for the people of North Carolina, that small percentage that we read or hear about every day are killing the image of the patrol."

The problem troopers include a major who resigned after sending sexually explicit text messages; a captain fired for drunken driving; a sergeant fired for abusing his canine partner; a master trooper who resigned after a charges of drunken driving and felony hit and run; and others dismissed or forced to resign for shooting a cat, lying in court and being investigated in the sexual assault of a motorist.

A pledge already taken

Some of the solutions Perdue offered Wednesday reiterate standing policies. Troopers are already must get yearly ethics training to maintain their certification. Troopers also pledge to uphold the law and act honorably when they are sworn in, and the patrol already has a code of conduct.

"If you betray your oath, you will be dismissed," Perdue said. "I don't believe that since some of these men and women were sworn in 22 years ago that anybody has ever dared get in their face and say that ethics code is a litmus test for your job."

There had been speculation that Perdue might replace Glover, an old friend from New Bern whom she promoted to commander last year. Perdue laid those rumors to rest Wednesday.

"He is as committed to this effort as I am," she said of the commander. "Col. Glover got to where he was in the patrol because of his record and his excellence and his willingness to serve. I trust both the colonel and the secretary. I trust them to fix this mess."

Joe Sinsheimer, a Democratic Party strategist-turned-watchdog, said he was not impressed.

"I think all North Carolina was hoping the governor would show some real leadership, which would mean replacing the commander of the Highway Patrol," Sinsheimer said. "And instead, all we got today were words and no action. It's pretty clear the Highway Patrol needs a cultural change and that change has to come from the top. Randy Glover and Reuben Young have already had an opportunity to put their imprint on the organization, and they failed."

Glover has been dogged by questions about a disciplinary transfer he received as a young trooper over an extramarital affair with a sheriff's dispatcher. Questions have also been raised about whether his long friendship with the governor aided his advancement.

The News & Observer reported Wednesday that a retired patrol secretary, Jacquelyn Walker, said Perdue intervened in 1995 to have Glover's name added to an already-prepared promotion list. Perdue was then a powerful state senator, while Glover was a sergeant.

"I don't think anybody can say who intervened when," Perdue said Wednesday. "I'll tell you what, I didn't intervene when he went from lieutenant colonel to colonel."

Asked whether Glover called her in 1995 to discuss a promotion, she said: "Randy Glover never asked me for a thing."

Pressed on the question, she said, "I don't intervene in promotions. I don't intervene in promotions. I never intervene in promotions."

Perdue then backed away from the lectern as a question was directed at Glover. She turned and left the room through a side door. She had been there less than 15 minutes.

'We're done'

Glover, who rarely appears at media events, was asked whether he agreed with Perdue that the problems were those of perception.

The commander responded by suggesting that his main problem was bad press.

"I'm taking care of business on a daily basis," Glover said. "I go to the east and I talk to people. I go to the west and I talk to people. I don't hear a lot about this. It's when I'm in the Piedmont that I hear this. And I always ask, 'Where did you hear that?' And it always comes back to the media. We'll take care of the problems we have. It gets magnified through the media."

Perdue's press secretary, Chrissy Pearson, stepped up and placed her hand over the microphone as he was asked another question.

"We're done," Pearson said. "Thanks y'all."

michael.biesecker@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4698

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