A Wake County Superior Court jury Thursday began deliberations in the case of a private security company owner who has been accused of using the state’s criminal information network to look up the personal information of a neighbor with whom he had an ongoing dispute.
The attorney representing Joseph Michael Conover, 38, the police chief of the Nova Company Police Agency, told the jury during closing arguments that his client, as a certified law officer, had access to the state’s criminal information database for vehicles in the subdivision where he lived and other subdivisions where he worked.
Conover testified earlier in the day that he used the database to check license plate numbers of vehicles parked in the driveway of a home owned by Reuben Smith last spring after the homeowner’s son threatened his dog.
But Wake County prosecutor Jason Smith described the security officer’s actions as a “spiteful act of vengeance” against Smith, who had called police to complain about Conover’s dog urinating and defecating in his yard.
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Conover was charged last April with eight felony counts of accessing government computers. Wake County Superior Court Judge Reuben Young could sentence him to probation or a minimum of five to six months in prison, according to state general statutes.
During closing arguments Thursday, Conover’s attorney, Johnny Gaskins, told the jury that his client was a certified law enforcement officer who contracted with a homeowner’s association to provide security for the property. That agreement, Gaskins argued, gave Conover limited access to the state’s criminal information database.
Rueben Smith, a longtime Greyhound bus driver, testified this week that he told Conover several times to stop letting his dog “urinate and use the bathroom” in his yard. He said he called Wake County Animal Control and the subdivision’s homeowners association, which suggested he place “No Trespassing” flags along the edge of his yard.
Smith said the homeowner’s association also told him that Conover “formerly did work for the homeowner’s association,” but that his contract ended in late 2013 after construction in the neighborhood ended.
Gaskins on Thursday suggested that Conover had a verbal agreement with the homeowners association that was “just as binding as a written contract.”
But Jason Smith, the prosecutor, said he was skeptical of Conover’s claims that he had such an agreement, noting that it occurred on the “side of a road” and that Conover could not provide the name of the person who made the agreement.
Jason Smith told the jury that the charges against Conover wasn’t about contracts or dogs, but about boundaries and the lack of respect, describing Conover as a someone who continually disregarded his neighbor’s request to control his dog. After Reuben Smith got “fed up” and called 911, a Raleigh police suggested to Conover that he walk his dog on the other side of the street to avoid the issue.
“And what did Mr. Conover do?” Jason Smith said. “He told the officer that, ‘No, he was not going to do that.’ ”
The state Department of Justice revoked Conover’s commission as a police officer last March. He 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 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. Those cases are expected to go to trial by summer.