RALEIGH Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman told members of a superior court jury Tuesday that the owner of a private security company abused his authority and showed “no respect for boundaries” when he used the state’s criminal information network to look up personal information for a neighbor with whom he had an ongoing dispute.
Freeman was speaking on the opening day of the trial for Joseph Michael Conover, 38, the police chief of the Nova Company Police Agency who has been charged with eight felony counts of accessing government computers. She said the dispute stemmed from Conover continually walking his German shepherd through the yard of Reuben Smith in their neighborhood off U.S. 401 in North Raleigh.
Conover’s attorney, Johnny Gaskins, told the jury that his client had authority to access information in the state’s database. Gaskins said Conover was a certified law enforcement officer who contracted with a homeowner’s association to provide security for the property.
Smith, a longtime Greyhound bus driver, told the court Tuesday that he first called officers with Wake County Animal Control on April 19, 2015, after he told Conover several times to stop letting the dog he walked “urinate and use the bathroom” in his yard.
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“I told him to try and keep his dog off my grass,” Smith said. “He told me it wasn’t my property, it belonged to the homeowner’s association.”
Smith said he called the homeowner’s association, and it suggested he place “No Trespassing” flags along the edge of his yard where the dog was defecating.
Smith then called 911 and asked for a police officer to help resolve the issue. Raleigh Officer D.P. Patterson testified Tuesday that he visited Smith’s home on Black Maple Drive late one morning and that Conover arrived as he was speaking to Smith.
“I asked him what was going on,” Patterson said. “He said his dog didn’t go in the yard, and he told me that Mr. Smith’s son had threatened him.”
Patterson said Conover was not agitated and appeared calm.
“I asked him to walk his dog on the other side of the street to avoid the issue,” Patterson said. “He didn’t agree. He told me he had jurisdiction of the entire neighborhood, and he ignored my advice.”
Smith later testified that he is a first-time homeowner who purchased the house several years ago. After that first encounter with Conover, he called the homeowner’s association and was informed that Conover “formerly did work for the homeowner’s association.” Smith said the homeowner’s association told him that Conover’s contract ended in late 2013 after construction in the neighborhood ended.
That April 2015 meeting was on a Sunday. After the officer left, Smith said Conover left and returned in his security officer’s uniform and walked his dog up and down the street in front of his home “10 times.”
“After the 10th time, he took the dog back to his house and drove back in his police car and parked right in front of my house across the street,” Smith told the court.
State investigators have accused Conover of using the state’s criminal information network to look up the license plate numbers from vehicles parked in Smith’s driveway to find personal information about him and his adult son.
During cross examination, Gaskins asked Smith if he knew Conover was a police officer and that the dog had a tag that identified him as a police dog.
“Well, I knew he was a security officer,” replied Smith, who added that he did not see a tag on the dog identifying his as a K9.
The trial is expected to last until the end of the week. Conover faces other related charges after investigators accused him of using a Taser to “electrically shock” three people “without legal justification or excuse,” and with pepper spraying another man “and rubbing the victim’s face with a shirt,” according to indictments filed at the Wake County Clerk of Courts Office.
The state Department of Justice revoked Conover’s commission as a police officer last March.
The charges filed against Conover in those cases include four felony counts of obstruction of justice, one count of second-degree kidnapping, four counts of willful failure to discharge duties and three misdemeanor counts of simple assault. Freeman said Tuesday that those cases are expected to go to trial by summer.