By Eddie Fitzgerald
NEW BERN, N.C. — New Bern's mayor and some members of the Board of Aldermen were strongly chastised Tuesday night for their actions following the shooting incident March 28 that led to the death of a New Bern police officer.
Three people spoke out against Mayor Dana Outlaw and aldermen in a packed board chamber. Tuesday's meeting came after nearly a week of heated online criticism of the way city leaders handled the aftermath of the shootings.
On March 28, Officer Alexander Thalmann was shot near Craven Terrace; he died three days later. New Bern Police Officer Justin Wester was shot in the leg, and the shooter, Bryan Stallings, was shot and killed at the scene.
The three people who spoke out Tuesday said they were angry about how the mayor and aldermen handled the situation after Thalmann died.
Eric Whitehurst, who described himself as a convicted felon who served time in prison but paid his debt to society, said the mayor's actions were disgraceful.
Whitehurst quoted from the Bible, Revelations 21:8 and Timothy 5:8, apparently trying to show Outlaw the errors of his ways.
"As a Christian, you denied officer Thalmann a proper vigil and then disgraced the family by attending this killer's funeral," he said.
Whitehurst said Outlaw's actions were an affront to the men and women of the police force.
Laura Heckman, who said she was speaking as a citizen and not as a New Bern police officer, told Outlaw he owed an apology to everyone, causing a large portion of the audience to applaud.
Steven Long, a local attorney, said on March 28 New Bern officers heard something they never wanted to hear.
"They heard one of their fellow office screaming for help on the radio," Long said. "They were also there for the business and the aftermath of Alex. I address him as Alex because he is no longer here with us and unfortunately, because of the cowardly act of Mr. Stallings, he is no longer an officer with the city."
While Thalmann was in Vidant Medical Center in Greenville after the shooting, Long said he understood New Bern police officers were by his side 24 hours a day.
"What's interesting is he did not have his mayor or any of his aldermen with him," Long said to more applause.
He continued, saying that after the funeral Outlaw mentioned Thalmann almost as a footnote in a posting on his Facebook page.
Whitehurst, sitting in the audience, said "resign" twice, speaking to Outlaw while Long spoke.
Long talked about the wreath-laying ceremony held in front of the police station and, from what he read, Alderman Johnnie Ray Kinsey wanted the Stallings family there.
"How disgraceful and how disgusting," Long said. "And Alderman (Bernard) White felt the need to say the law would look after the law and no one else. How disgraceful and how disgusting."
Long said on the second day Thalmann's body was in nearby Washington for viewing, Outlaw and two aldermen attended Stallings funeral.
"To this family, it's a tragedy," Long said. "They do not control and they're not responsible for what happens. They deserve to lay their family member and son to rest without your political agendas being addressed."
Aldermen and the mayor did not stop Long as he continued over his allotted time to speak during the public forum.
Long took offense at Outlaw's statement that Thalmann would want us all to move on and, as a officer, he would assure us we are all in this together.
"I respectfully disagree with you Mr. Mayor," Long said. "You have absolutely no right to make any assumption to what Alex would have said," which caused another outbreak of applause.
Long also used a May 2013 quote from Outlaw calling for then-Mayor Lee Bettis' resignation that said in part: "There is a void in leadership now and the city can do better than this."
"I will end on this Mr. Mayor," Long said. "Resign."
Alderman Pat Schaible said later in the meeting, in reference to Long's statement, that she and aldermen Kinsey and Dallas Blackiston did go to the hospital the day after the shooting.
At the request of the family, they did not visit Thalmann, who was in intensive care, she said.
Schaible said she supported the decision to replace the vigil first scheduled at Union Point Park with the wreath-laying ceremony held at the police station.
Once the information went viral about including Stallings' family and friends in the service, the location and timing had to be changed, Schaible said.
"Let us not look to who sent the information out, the point is that it was there and nothing we could say or do would take it back," she said. "Union Point Park is a public park."
Schaible said an officer with the New Bern Police Department sent her a personal note that expressed it better than she could, so she quoted it: "The danger presented to innocent citizens of this community by combining the presence of two factions could have resulted in more physical harm to innocent persons and there was no choice but to move the vigil."
That statement caused a rumble through the room. But Schaible continued, saying she received a call the previous Saturday from an officer in the Craven County Sheriff's Office who fully supported the aldermen's decision to change the vigil because he understood it became a public safety issue.
"I personally could not bear to see any citizen getting hurt as a result of what was happening," Schaible said. "I received many notes, including those from the law enforcement community, supporting this decision. I have also talked with many citizens in the community who knew we did the right thing."
Outlaw had to bring a point of order to the meeting after everyone began talking. Then he asked Schaible if she wanted to allow the public to speak again and she said no, she thought everyone had a chance to speak and she did not want to turn it into a shouting match.
Schaible said the board members' hearts and prayers go out to Thalmann's family and the New Bern Police Department.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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