Trooper accused of false arrest

Staff WriterJune 30, 2011 

— The state Highway Patrol is investigating the actions of a trooper accused of falsely arresting a Raleigh mother in Wilmington, mistreating her and then orchestrating an unjustified traffic stop of her husband.

The internal affairs probe was triggered after Raleigh attorney Hoyt Tessener sent an eight-page letter on Friday to Gov. Bev Perdue and other officials detailing the experience of his wife, Gina, earlier this month with Senior Trooper Edward S. Wyrick.

Patrol spokesman 1st Sgt. Jeff Gordon said Wyrick, 34, was still on the road Wednesday. The agency's internal investigation will be "fair, impartial and thorough," Gordon said in an email.

A trooper since 2006, Wyrick was not available for comment.

Gina Tessener, 51, said Wednesday she is going public with her experience in the hope she can prevent Wyrick from behaving similarly with other women.

"I want him off the road," she said. "I don't want him to have this authority over anyone. I don't trust his judgment. This conduct should not be condoned"

The Tesseners traveled to the coast earlier this month for a weeklong conference of the N.C. Advocates for Justice, a trial lawyers group.

On the night of June 21, Tessener was driving her 2007 Lexus from a formal dinner ending the conference in Wilmington to a friend's house in Wrightsville Beach, where the couple was staying. Her husband was attending to other business, and she was in the car alone.

As she approached the bridge to the island, Tessener, who in college was a head cheerleader at N.C. State University, was passed in the left lane by a Highway Patrol cruiser driven by Wyrick.

She said the trooper then hit the brakes, allowing her to pull ahead, before pulling behind her and cutting on his blue lights. She pulled over into a gravel parking lot.

Tessener said the trooper told her she had a headlight out. As she flipped the lights on and off to see whether they were working, she said he stuck his head through her open driver's side window and said he could smell alcohol on her breath.

Tessener said she told the trooper that she was at a gala but did not drink any alcohol. The trooper ordered her out of the car.

Dressed in an evening gown and high heels, Tessener said she felt unsteady on the gravel and politely declined to perform a field sobriety test, which typically requires standing on one leg.

She stands on her rights

Becoming increasingly concerned about his demeanor and insistence that she was intoxicated, Tessener said she also invoked her right to not take a breathalyzer test without a witness present to document the results.

Wyrick arrested Tessener, handcuffing her wrists behind her back and putting her in his Dodge Charger to drive across the bridge to the Wrightsville Beach Police station. Court records show she has one speeding ticket.

At the station, Tessener was allowed to call her husband, who hurried to witness her breathalyzer test test.

When Tessener blew into the machine and it registered a reading of 0.0, the Tesseners said the trooper became visibly upset. He recalibrated the machine and ordered her to blow again. The machine showed 0.0.

Hoyt Tessener provided a copy of the testing machine print out, verifying the results and showing timestamps from shortly before midnight.

"When I blew that 0.0, it would have changed everything if he had just said, 'I'm sorry. I thought I smelled alcohol on your breath ... I'm just doing my job,' " Gina Tessener said in an interview Wednesday.

Instead, the trooper ordered Hoyt Tessener out of the room and then yelled at Gina Tessener.

"It was like he would have been happy if I'd broken the law, but he was angry I hadn't," she said. "He was trying to intimidate us."

Was it a setup?

Despite the test showing she had not been drinking, Wyrick told them he was taking her "downtown" to appear before a magistrate.

Unfamiliar with the area, Hoyt Tessener agreed to follow the trooper's car to downtown Wilmington. Meanwhile, Gina Tessener, back in handcuffs, said she saw Wyrick text someone on his phone.

Hoyt Tessener says he followed the trooper's car back over the bridge and into Wilmington. As they stopped at a traffic signal, he said Wyrick sped away.

Concerned the trooper was trying to force him to exceed the speed limit, Tessener said he fell behind. He soon saw the blue lights of another trooper in his rearview mirror.

Gina Tessener said Wyrick rolled down his window so he could watch her husband being stopped. She said he then laughed and said: "Looks like your husband is getting pulled over."

"I asked him: 'Did you just set my husband up?' " she recounted Wednesday. "And he said, 'I'm offended you would even say that.'"

Both Tesseners said they became very concerned for each other's safety.

"I've been married to my wife for 28 years," Hoyt Tessener said. "When I watched her go with this guy, hands cuffed behind her back, taking her some place, I don't know where, you just feel like a failure, because you're supposed to take care of your family."

The second trooper

Hoyt Tessener said the trooper who pulled him over ordered him out of the car and to perform a roadside sobriety test. When he asked the trooper his name and attempted to read his nametag , the officer shined a flashlight in his eyes.

On Wednesday, the Highway Patrol identified the second officer as Trooper Andrew Smith.

After a few minutes, Smith let Tessener go without charge. But by that time, the cruiser containing Wyrick and his wife were no where in sight. Unfamiliar with the area, he headed toward downtown Wilmington.

But Wyrick wasn't headed downtown. He was going to the New Hanover County Jail in Castle Hayne, information he did not share with her as they left the city and began driving on increasingly rural and dark roads.

Gina Tessener said she was terrified.

"I had a very sick feeling," she said. "At this point, I wasn't sure for the safety of my husband. We were on these isolated roads with no cars, and I didn't know where we were going."

When they arrived at the jail, Tessener was processed and locked in the "drunk tank." Later she was taken to appear before a magistrate. With Wyrick standing inches away, she said the magistrate lectured her about driving after drinking, despite her insistence she had not, and then ordered her release.

But she was not yet free.

Gina Tessener said Wyrick, still agitated, ordered her to get back in his car, saying it was late and she wouldn't be safe on her own. Though the trooper still had her purse and cellphone, she refused, telling Wyrick she'd rather walk.

By then, Hoyt Tessener said he had found his way to the jail. The couple was reunited at about 1:30 a.m.

The following day Hoyt Tessener tested the headlights on his wife's Lexus. He said both worked just fine.

Copies of radio calls the troopers made that night, released by the patrol Wednesday following a public records request, confirm the timeline and locations in the Tesseners' account of events.

Waiting for state action

A personal injury lawyer, Tessener said he has no intent of suing the Highway Patrol - unless the agency's leaders fail to take action.

"If this man stays on the road with the Highway Patrol, I will sue," he said. "But not in any way, shape, or form will we ask for any damages ...

"I feel like, as an officer of the court, if I don't stand up, who will? When the governor said last year she was going to clean up the Highway Patrol, I took her at her word. What is done in this situation will let me know whether to trust that word."

Gina Tessener said she has always taught her children - now adults - to respect troopers. "Now, if they find themselves in a similar situation with a law enforcement officer, they'll know you can't trust them," she said.

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

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