09/10/04 — Hispanic advocate says police stole from drivers

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Hispanic advocate says police stole from drivers

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on September 10, 2004 1:59 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- A Hispanic leader said today that he had been told of Mount Olive policemen following Hispanics through town, stopping their cars, rummaging through their belongings and stealing from them.

J.R. Peralta, who works with Hispanic employees at Carolina Turkeys, said four Hispanic residents had mentioned the occurrences to him. Peralta is one of the founders of the Mexican Association of North Carolina and is now president of the group. He is also a member of Amexcan Duplin, which is based in Warsaw. His duties at Carolina Turkeys include translating. His title is managing for housing.

Peralta said that last year two Hispanic people told him they never got their wallets back after officers took them. They told him they complained to the Mount Olive Police Department.

"A lot of Hispanics felt they were picked on," he said. "It seemed the same officers would take turns stopping them or following them through town. It was the same people over and over."

Two years ago, two other people who were from Puerto Rico told him they felt singled out because of their race. They spoke English. They said the officers would stop them and go through their belongings. They told him the officers had no search warrants and did not ask for permission to search the vehicles.

"They just pulled them over and told them to get out of the car and started seaching through their belongings," said Peralta.

He said he has not heard any complaints this year.

Three officers have been suspended from the Mount Olive Police Department for allegedly stealing from Hispanic drivers they stopped.

The SBI is investigating, having been called in by Wayne County District Attorney Branny Vickory. Police Chief Emmett Ballree had taken the information to Vickory, town officials said.

Ballree sent three officers home Wednesday. The officers had not been charged at press time today.

Ballree said he was saddened and shocked to learn of the allegations.

"We want to ensure our citizens that misconduct on the part of any officer of this department cannot and will not be tolerated," he said Wednesday afternoon. "We will do everything possible to protect the public trust."

The three officers are Sgt. Josh Ehnert, Senior Patrolman Freddie Southerland and Patrolman David Johnson.