Time for SBI agent to be disciplined

August 19, 2013 

Roy Cooper, North Carolina’s four-term attorney general, needs to terminate the employment of SBI agent Mark Isley or justify why he shouldn’t. Isley not only didn’t do his job properly in a 1993 murder case in Wadesboro, but he also put an innocent man in jail for 14 years by essentially writing a phony confession. Isley certainly conveyed the impression that he had taken down the confession of Floyd Brown verbatim. But one expert after another said that Brown, a mentally disabled man with an IQ of about 50, couldn’t possibly have recounted the “murder” with such coherent detail. Then when Brown, who was ordered freed in 2007 by Durham Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, sued the state, Isley said the “confession” he wrote down was really a summary.

Such behavior by an SBI agent is outrageous and inexcusable. A man who committed no crime – in this case the beating death of a retired teacher – lost 14 years of his life thanks to Isley. This same agent, The News & Observer’s Joseph Neff and Mandy Locke reported Sunday, demonstrated curious professional behavior in the 1990s when he was in Anson County working with a couple of sheriff’s deputies.

It seems Isley heard about those deputies getting payoffs to reduce charges on defendants. Yet Isley, according to information that came to light in Brown’s lawsuit, failed to file any reports for several years, though he says he told somebody about it. Both those deputies went to federal prison.

Isley is still an agent. In fact, he’s the head of the bureau’s Medicaid Fraud Section and makes over $86,000 a year. He has not been disciplined, although he’s not a stranger to controversy within the organization. Isley, who is black, once filed racial discrimination charges against the SBI. He was promoted and given a $12,000 raise within a year.

If Cooper is doing his job, he’s not commenting on this issue because he has an internal investigation going regarding Isley’s performance. Unfortunately, it may be that Cooper is reacting in the way too many in law enforcement do when a problem, even a serious one, arises.

Duke University law professor Jim Coleman, an expert on wrongful convictions, says that law enforcement rarely punishes those who make mistakes.

“The misconduct in this case,” Coleman said, “is another black eye for the criminal justice system. They simply take the loss and move on as if nothing happened. Until there are consequences, nothing will change.”

This is a stand-up test for Roy Cooper, and not just because he’s likely the leading Democratic contender to face Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in 2016.

Cooper has a duty to demonstrate to the public that the criminal justice system isn’t just about catching and punishing the bad guys. It’s about the integrity of the entire process, and those inside that system who do not respect it shouldn’t be in law enforcement.

In addition, Cooper surely understands that the sound, credible, honest and forthright agents in the SBI do not want someone in the ranks who has caused doubt and cynicism to be cast over their agency.

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