Wake County

Holly Springs police officers, ex-wife sued by ex-Congressional candidate

Japheth “Jeff” Matemu
Japheth “Jeff” Matemu CCBI

A Raleigh attorney and former congressional candidate has sued two Holly Springs police officers and his ex-wife, alleging he was wrongfully arrested for cyberstalking during a contentious breakup last year.

Japheth “Jeff” Matemu, who ran unsuccessfully as a Libertarian in last year’s 2nd District race, filed his lawsuit July 29 in Wake County court against officers Thomas Brienzi, Brian Tew and his former wife, Traci Matemu. He seeks more than $300,000 in various damages, arguing emotional anguish and damage to his law practice.

In the lawsuit, Matemu alleges that Brienzi and his then-wife had “an unusual and continuing and off-duty relationship,” and that the officer abused his police authority to help the wife obtain full custody of their minor child.

In June of 2018, the suit said, Brienzi approached Matemu pretending to be an impartial arbiter who wanted to help the custody arrangement go smoothly. Instead, Matemu said, Brienzi took advantage of his trust and obtained sensitive information to help his estranged wife obtain a domestic violence protective order.

Their only goal, wrote Matemu, who is representing himself in the case, “was not because of legitimate fear of domestic violence but to assist the ... defendant to obtain full custody of the minor child and/or gain an advantage in the pending proceedings.”

That protective order was revoked in April, according to court records when District Court Judge Jefferson Griffin wrote Traci Matemu “is using this order to assist positioning for litigation.”

Holly Springs spokesman Mark Andrews said in an email Wednesday that the town had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment. Efforts to reach Traci Matemu were unsuccessful.

In the summer of 2018, Matemu said in his suit, his wife violated their custody agreement “out of spite and ill-will” and cut off all contact with their child. He wrote that he sent numerous texts and hired a private detective to find her, which led to stalking and cyberstalking charges.

In July 2017, the suit said, Brienzi called him to the Holly Springs Police Department to “supposedly” discuss a custody exchange plan but arrested him on stalking charges when he arrived. Matemu described Brienzi’s actions as “a complete breach of trust” that forced him to plead guilty to the cyberstalking charge.

“Plaintiff was going through turmoil, anxiety and emotional distress due to separation from his minor child,” Matemu’s suit said. “”Plaintiff believed (Brienzi) was trying to be fair and helpful but instead used the trust and reverence for the police ... to deceive and take advantage of the plaintiff.”

In January, the suit said, Tew called Matemu to say his daughter had brought a knife to school and told people she did it on her father’s instructions. When he spoke to his daughter later, the suit said, she denied ever having a knife.

Brienzi and his wife “fabricated the knife story and coached the minor child repeatedly to stick to the fabricated story,” the suit said.

Matemu’s suit said Brienzi arrested him at his daughter’s school for violating the protective order — which has now been dismissed — and for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

In June, the suit said, Matemu was found not guilty, and when the judge asked Brienzi why he had charged Matemu, he said, “I just put two and two together since she is a young child and concluded that he must have told her to carry the knife to school.”

Matemu specializes in immigration law. He was reprimanded in 2017 for a contract with clients that required a lien for attorney’s fees, for requiring that clients pay to photocopy their files and for instructing clients that they were subject to arbitration laws in New York.

He said Thursday he brought the suit to bring about necessary changes. “We should do something about people using the criminal process for their own advantage,” he said.

Josh Shaffer covers Wake County and federal courts. He has been a reporter for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.