Flagrant Abuse Of Power By NC Sheriff Results In A Federal Restraining Order

When a North Carolina county sheriff abuses his power to stop a man from serving a subpoena — in an abuse of power lawsuit — the situation has passed beyond ludicrous to surreal.

In what is being called an unprecedented case, U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle issued a temporary restraining order last week that said:

“Sheriff Tracy Carter and the Lee County Sheriff’s Office are restrained and enjoined from interfering in any way with [Steven Wayne Thomas’s] efforts to serve subpoenas to any witnesses in the upcoming trial.”

Thomas is the plaintiff in a federal lawsuit over the alleged use of excessive force by sheriff’s deputies in 2009. The deputies were responding to a property damage call, where they found Thomas behaving erratically. After subduing him, they allegedly shocked him repeatedly with a stun gun and also fractured his jaw. Thomas’ behavior reportedly came from exposure to herbicides and insecticides he had been spraying on his farm.

As a result of his injuries, Thomas filed a federal lawsuit and hired 71-year-old Robert Wade to serve Sheriff Carter with a subpoena to appear at the trial. Carter was being sought as a witness, not a defendant.

When Wade went to Carter’s home to serve the subpoena, the sheriff wouldn’t come to the door. The server tried to leave, but Carter came out of the house and blocked his truck until deputies arrived to arrest Wade. The charges were trespassing and carrying a concealed weapon, which Wade informed deputies was inside his truck.

With a trial date of June 2 looming, attorney Kieran Shanahan took the matter before Judge Boyle to make the sheriff stop obstructing the service of subpoenas. Shanahan said:

“In the environment we live in now where police are under scrutiny for acting out and misbehaving you would think that a sheriff in North Carolina would comply with the law and accept simple service of a piece of paper.”

Shanahan is obviously confusing Carter with a normal person, with normal powers of reasoning. He unfortunately reinforces stereotypes of bullying Southern sheriffs. What a normal person would expect is that sheriff’s departments, and all law enforcement agencies, would currently be bending over backward to scrub their images clean. In many cases, however, resistance to change is the reality.

The attorney added:

“I don’t think a federal judge would have done such a thing if he didn’t also share my concern about a sheriff who’s confused between enforcing the law and thinking they are above the law.”

This kind of “confusion” has been allowed to prevail for so long, that some law officers continue to feel free to ignore the distinction. Now, thanks to the precedent set in Sheriff Carter’s case, federal judges might intervene more promptly when officers try to subvert justice.

Feature photo via Sheriff Tracy Carter’s Facebook page