Jury selection has begun in the Wake County trial of the owner of a private security company accused of overstepping his authority as a law enforcement officer and charged with multiple felonies by the state last year.
Joseph Michael Conover, the police chief of the Nova Company Police Agency, was charged with 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, according to arrest records filed at the Wake County District Attorney’s Office.
Conover, 38, has also been charged with illegally using the state’s criminal information network to gain personal information about Wake County residents that he unlawfully arrested.
Conover, 38, has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He said last week that he did not wish to comment about the “allegations.”
State authorities grant police powers to private agencies that have met the state’s minimum law enforcement requirements, but only in the jurisdiction where they are contracted to work, said Randy Munn, a spokesman with the state’s Criminal Justice Standards Division. Some private officers can also access the state’s criminal information network, but they’re able to get only limited amounts of information, said Munn, who declined to comment on Conover’s case.
Nova contracts primarily with apartment developments and subdivisions to provide security. The company also services stores and industries, according to its website.
State investigators have accused Conover 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to a notice from the state Department of Justice that informed Conover that his company police officer commission had been revoked.
Investigators think the offenses started in the summer of 2015 and continued until early 2016, according to the indictments and revocation notice state officials mailed to Conover in March.
On Dec. 28, 2015, state investigators said Conover unlawfully arrested a resident in the parking lot of The Trestles apartment complex on Baybridge Crossing in North Raleigh and “used excessive force” when he attacked the resident with a Taser and pepper spray. They also think Conover falsified arrest warrants when he took the man into custody, according to the revocation notice.
Investigators think Conover used similar tactics in the summer of 2015 during encounters with residents at two apartment complex parking lots in North Raleigh. The residents accused Conover of detaining and attacking them with a Taser before he drove them to jail, according to the indictments.
Residents who had encounters with Conover started complaining. On July 31, 2015, William Pittman, a prosecutor with the Wake County District Attorney’s Office, notified the state Department of Justice about the complaints and concern about the “overly zealous enforcement” used by Conover. Pittman described the incidents as “minor traffic issues” that “escalate to the point where local law enforcement is required to intervene,” according to a letter he wrote to state justice officials.
One month later, state Department of Justice notified Conover and told him an inquiry was being launched to determine if the citizen complaints were true.
Months later on Jan. 7 and Jan. 14, 2016, state investigators say Conover activated the blue light on his security car and stopped a motorist at the intersection of Glendower and Lynn roads. SBI agent accused Conover of pointing a gun at the motorist. One week later, Conover stopped the motorist again and Tasered him, according to the indictments.
Conover was arrested April 4 and placed under a $2 million bond, per the order of Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald W. Stephens. He was granted pre-trial release the following day and released after posting a $250,000 bail, according to arrest records.
One day after Conover’s arrest, Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman announced that her office would dismiss about 35 pending cases involving charges made him.