LILLINGTON, N.C. (AP/WNCN) — The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP is seeking a federal investigation of “abuses and possible crimes” in the Harnett County Sheriff’s Office.
Officials with the state and Harnett County chapters say they plan to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice for an investigation following a series of stories in The News & Observer of Raleigh.
Residents told the newspaper that Harnett County sheriff’s deputies have battered and harassed them. The newspaper reports that two men died while others have been assaulted.
Rev. William Barber of the N.C. NAACP called for a Ferguson, Missouri-like investigation of the Harnett County Sheriff’s Office during a news conference Monday in Lillington.
This comes after attorneys identified at least 12 cases of what they called “injustice and corruption.”
“The river of distrust in this county is as wide as the Cape Fear River,” Barber said.
Barber joined at least 50 community leaders and victims’ families outside the Harnett County Courthouse. Barber said the county is dealing with a systemic problem and the Department of Justice needs to come in and investigate the entire system.
“A gun and a badge, investigatory powers, the ability to serve warrants and take family members out of their home and the ability to be protected by the DA is too much power…” Barber said.
The Justice Department has already opened an inquiry into at least two cases in Harnett County. NAACP leaders say that sort of limited review is not enough.
“Who has been turning their head in Harnett County, who has known about this, who had had the power to challenge it, who is policing the Sheriff,” Barber said during Monday’s press conference.
Brandon Bethea’s family became emotional following rally. Bethea died while in custody at the Harnett County Jail in March 2011. His family believes he died after being tased. The detention officer involved was never charged and the entire incident was caught on surveillance video.
“It hurts that anybody would do that to anybody…that you would have the mindset to do something like that,” a member of Bethea’s family said.
Some residents have also spoken out against Sheriff Wayne Coats. The previous sheriff, Larry Rollins, resigned just one day before the district attorney announced he would look to indict a deputy with murder. The group wants Sheriff Coats to be held accountable.
Coats sent a statement last week saying his office is in the process of retaining an attorney to evaluate any claims of misconduct. They’ll also review current protocols and see if any additional procedures are needed.