09/09/04 — Mount Olive officers to be suspended -- SBI investigating allegations of stealing from drivers

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Mount Olive officers to be suspended -- SBI investigating allegations of stealing from drivers

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on September 9, 2004 2:01 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Three Mount Olive police officers face suspension as the result of an investigation into whether officers stole money from drivers they had stopped.

The News-Argus has learned that the three officers' names are Sgt. Josh Ehnert, shift supervisor; Senior Pa-trolman Freddie Southerland; and Patrolman David Johnson. The de-partment has a total of 15 officers.

District Attorney Branny Vickory said he does not anticipate any arrests today. The State Bureau of Investigation is still working on the case, he said.

Joshua Ehnert


David Johnson


Freddie Southerland


Town Manager Ray McDonald said he cannot release the names of the men until they receive a letter notifying them of their suspension. He said the suspension would be without pay, pending completion of an SBI investigation. He said the officers were sent home Wednesday, but they would receive the suspension letters today.

"We wanted to wait until they were arrested," he said. "A whole shift is involved in this thing. ... We do not know if this is all."

McDonald said the officers have been accused of taking people's money when they stopped them in traffic. McDonald said the alleged acts occurred this way: The people would hand their wallets to the officers, who would take the wallets to the squad cars where they wrote the tickets. When the wallets were returned to the drivers, some money was gone and would not be missed until later by the driver.

He said the town's policy is to ask the driver to take the driver's license out of the wallet before giving it to the officer.

Mount Olive Police Chief Emmett Ballree said he conducted an internal investigation as soon as he learned about the possible wrongdoing. Several of the allegations were substantiated, he said, and he notified District Attorney Vickory, who in turn asked the SBI to conduct a criminal investigation.

"Although I was saddened and shocked to learn of the allegations against these officers, I realized that immediate action was necessary," said Ballree. "We want to ensure our citizens that misconduct on the part of any officer of this department cannot and will not be tolerated. We will do everything possible to protect the public trust."