Judge clears, drops rookie-in-training from theft lawsuit;
suspects allege that superior stole their cash

(DURHAM, N.C.) -- A judge dismissed a police officer from a lawsuit that claims he watched as his partner stole money from a motorist.

Jeremy C. Fuller had a gun and a badge but was not in a position to question his more experienced partner, Stanley Earl Harris, Superior Court Judge Henry Barnette wrote on Nov. 18 in a memo detailing his decision.

"[I]t is unreasonable to expect a rookie in training to intervene against his training officer," Barnette said.

"If what he witnessed was overt police brutality a la Rodney King, then his duty would be different."

The judge also fined lawyer Alex Charns, who is representing John J. Johnson and Charles D. Blackwell, for filing a motion last week that accused Fuller and the city of Durham of filing false statements in the case.

Barnette said there was no evidence that the city acted in bad faith when it turned over two affidavits by Fuller that contained a phrase Fuller has since claimed he hadn't heard before. Charns said that the city prepared the statement and had Fuller sign it and that it contained language that was used to protect the city.

Barnette disagreed and ordered Charns to pay the defendants $1,895, the amount it cost to defend against the motion.

"We intend to appeal to the North Carolina Court of Appeals," Charns said Friday.

During the past few years, Charns has represented defendants in several suits against police and has accused the city of

turning a blind eye to abuses.

The suit by Johnson and Blackwell accused Fuller and Harris of unconstitutionally stopping them in April 1999. The men said Fuller and Harris illegally searched their car, took $2,200 and assaulted them.

Harris and the city said all that was taken were tickets used for gambling. The ball tickets, as they are called, were later destroyed without being turned in to a police property room, as department rules require.

A videotape of the stop shows Fuller asking Johnson for his driver's license and then watching as Harris searched the car. Harris is then seen holding something in his hand; he says it was ball tickets, but the motorists say it was money.

"There is no evidence that [Fuller] witnessed Harris take and keep any property belonging to the [motorists] or commit any assault and battery," Barnette said.

Although Fuller might have made a stop without reasonable suspicion as the law demands, Barnette said, Fuller assumed that his partner did have good reason to order the stop.

Barnette's decision means Fuller is out of the case, but Harris and the city are scheduled for trial Nov. 27.

(iSyndicate; The News & Observer; Nov. 18, 2000) Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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