Police on Bald Head Island have reinstated charges – dropped last year after an officer twice failed to appear in court – against a suburban Charlotte woman jailed for child abuse when she allowed her 11-year-old son to drive a golf cart at the exclusive resort near Wilmington.
Bald Head Island refiled the charges three days after the arresting officer, James Hunter, was named in a federal civil lawsuit alleging assault, unlawful use of force and malicious prosecution brought by Julie Mall, a Ballantyne-area mother of two who was vacationing with her family at the island when arrested in July 2015.
It is the latest twist in a case that attracted international media attention last year when a cellphone video was made public of Mall’s arrest. In the video, two officers are seen handcuffing the 5-foot-4, 125 pound woman on the ground as she shrieked.
Village police maintained that Mall was drunk and hostile during the encounter and also charged her with resisting arrest and intoxication. Though Mall was never given a field sobriety test or a Breathalayzer exam at either the police station or Brunswick County jail, charges of public intoxication were also refiled by Bald Head Island police as was the original charge of resisting arrest.
Hunter, who has been promoted to corporal on the island’s public safety team since the original arrest, referred questions to the village attorney, Charles Baldwin.
Both sides steadfast
“We are confident that the evidence and eyewitness testimonies will show our public safety officers acted appropriately to both enforce the law and respect the rights of Ms. Mall,” Baldwin said. “Safety of our residents and visitors remains one of our top priorities.”
Baldwin declined to comment on whether there was any relationship between the filing of the federal suit last week and the reinstatement of misdemeanor charges against Mall.
“We’re going to let the legal process play out, and we feel good about our case,” Baldwin said.
Mall, a software sales representative whose only prior run-in with police was a speeding ticket 10 years ago, has maintained that she was wrong to allow her son to steer the golf cart because the legal age for operating one is 16 on the island, where passenger cars are prohibited.
But Mall has also maintained that police escalated the encounter far beyond what was necessary, repeatedly and wrongly accusing her and her husband of being drunk, bringing her two children to tears and manhandling her during the arrest.
“I was very surprised Bald Head Island decided to refile charges,” Mall said. “It hasn’t affected our position on moving forward on the federal case.”
Mall’s civil attorney, John Gresham of Charlotte, said that before filing the federal suit, he twice approached Bald Head Island about settling the dispute through mediation, but the village declined.
“I was puzzled that Officer Hunter would dash to the magistrate’s office to refile the summons in this case immediately after being served with the summons in Mrs. Mall’s complaint,” Gresham said.
Under N.C. law, charges dismissed in court can be refiled by authorities within two years. Attorney Bruce Mason of Wilmington is representing Mall in the criminal case.