09/28/04 — Mount Olive police charged with stealing from drivers

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Mount Olive police charged with stealing from drivers

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on September 28, 2004 2:05 PM

Three former Mount Olive police officers were charged Monday with stealing from Latino drivers they stopped.

The charge is "felony conspiracy to commit larceny against motorists stopped for traffic violations."

Sgt. Joshua Joseph Ehnert and Patrolmen Freddy Norman Southerland and David Allen Johnson were placed under $4,000 bond each and are scheduled for a first appearance in court at 1:30 p.m. today.

They resigned last week from their positions with the department, according to Town Manager Ray McDonald. They had been suspended without pay while the investigation was occurring.

Ehnert was a shift supervisor. Southerland was a senior patrolman, and Johnson was a patrolman in the department, which has a total of 15 officers. Ehnert had been with the department for four years, Sou-therland two years and Johnson one.

According to the search warrant from the SBI, Mount Olive Police Chief Emmett Ballree last month "received numerous complaints from Latino males that they had been stopped by Mt. Olive Police Sgt. Joshua Joseph Ehnert. After the traffic stops the Latino males were missing money from their wallets."

Ballree said he conducted an internal investigation, and several of the allegations were substantiated. He notified District Attorney Vickory, who in turn asked the SBI to conduct a criminal investigation.

An SBI agent filed a search warrant on Sept. 7 after an undercover agent was stopped by Ehnert, according to the warrant.

The search warrant gave this account:

A Latino undercover agent gave Ehnert fictitious identification. Ehnert took his wallet and took him to the Police Department and issued a ticket. The agent had $310 in marked bills in his wallet. Ehnert released him but kept the wallet. The agent said he last saw the wallet in the police car that Ehnert was driving. Another agent then got a search warrant to search the car to recover the wallet and money.

Town Manager Ray McDonald 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.