10/13/04 — DA waiting on results of SBI investigation

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DA waiting on results of SBI investigation

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on October 13, 2004 1:58 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Wayne County District Attorney Branny Vickory is waiting for the State Bureau of Investigation to submit a report about alleged wrongdoing by three police officers.

A probable cause hearing was set for Tuesday in Wayne District Court for former Mount Olive policemen charged with allegedly stealing from Latino drivers they stopped.

Former Sgt. Joshua Joseph Ehnert and former patrolmen Freddy Norman Southerland and David Allen Johnson were charged in September with felony conspiracy to commit larceny. They were placed under $4,000 bond each.

Vickory said there was no hearing held Tuesday. Normally, that is when bond motions are made, and the three officers had already posted bond.

In some places, the probable cause hearing can be a way for the defense lawyers to get the information that's in the investigation report. But Vickory said the District Attorney's Office in eighth district always gives the reports to the defense lawyers.

The report, when it is submitted to Victory, will then be evaluated. Based on his evaluation of the report, he will decide whether to submit proposed bills of indictment to the grand jury, which meets once a month. The grand jury meets next on Nov. 1.

Usually, one investigator talks to the grand jury. Then, the grand jury votes. If 12 of the 18 members agree, a true bill of indictment is issued, and the case advances to Superior Court for trial.

According to an SBI search warrant, the Mount Olive Police Department received complaints in mid-August from Latino men who said they had been stopped by police Sgt. Joshua Joseph Ehnert. The men said that after the traffic stops they were missing money from their wallets, according to the search warrant filed on Sept. 7.

The following day, the three officers were sent home on suspension without pay. On Sept. 9 and 10, they resigned. They were told to turn themselves in on Sept. 27.

The following Friday was their day to be scheduled in traffic court. Police chief Emmett Ballree said more people came to the department looking for the identification cards that day. No more money was reported missing.