N.C. officer suspended for drawing gun on fleeing suspect


The Charlotte Observer

MARSHVILLE, N.C. — A Marshville police officer has been suspended while the town looks into whether he acted appropriately when he drew his gun on a 16-year-old girl who did not immediately pull over for a traffic stop.

A Wingate officer involved in the incident is also under investigation.

The girl, Ashlyn Stewart, was arrested Sunday night after she led police across nearly 3 miles of unlit country road between Wingate and Marshville in Union County.

Her mother, Donna Helms, claims Stewart was acting on her advice to find a safe, lighted place before pulling over. Helms has submitted a written complaint to the town officials in Marshville and Wingate, demanding that the two officers be fired. The Marshville Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to place Sgt. James Scott on administrative suspension with pay for 30 days while the incident is investigated.

The Wingate officer who started the pursuit, Sgt. Jonathon Philemon, remains on duty. The town personnel review board will consider his case.

No criminal complaint has been filed against either officer.

According to police records, the pursuit began about 9:45 p.m. Sunday with the Wingate officer following a red Volkswagen Jetta on Old Highway 74. Philemon turned on his blue lights, and the Jetta continued another 1.5 miles before its emergency blinkers came on. Police say the driver was going about 55 to 60 mph. The speed limit is 55 mph.

The chase continued for another mile before Philemon, joined by two Marshville patrol cars, forced the driver to stop at the intersection of Old Highway 74 and Old Pageland-Marshville Road.

One of the Marshville officers, Scott, got out of his car and rushed over to the Jetta. He was pointing his gun and flashlight, according to a report he filed. He ordered the driver out and, with Philemon, handcuffed her.

Meanwhile, Stewart's mother, Helms, was running toward the scene: The officers had stopped her daughter 50 feet shy of her home on Old Pageland-Marshville Road. Helms said she had told her daughter via cell phone not to stop on the unlit road but to continue on home, according to police reports and Helms' complaint.

Philemon arrested the Forest Hills High School junior and took her to Union County jail. She was charged with misdemeanors: failure to comply with drivers license restrictions, driving with an expired registration and failure to yield to a police light and siren.

Later, Stewart told her mother she had to ask Philemon to buckle her seat belt because she was handcuffed and in the front seat.

On the way to jail, Helms wrote, Philemon played loud music, swerved and acted "like he was playing the drums on the steering wheel."

Wingate Police Chief Barry Glass said the town personnel review committee will determine whether there was any misconduct by Philemon, 30, a six-year veteran of the department.

Glass said the law requires motorists to pull over immediately if signaled to stop, but that officers will often allow motorists to continue if they signal that they intend to pull over and are headed toward a lighted area.

Marshville Police Chief Mike Gaddy defended Scott, 30, as a "fine officer" with no other personnel complaints since joining the department in 2003.

Gaddy said it was unfair that the council excluded police — including him and Scott — from a closed session on the incident. The council reopened the session and voted to suspend Scott.

Donna Helms could not be reached for comment. She is a sister of Marshville Mayor Pro Tem Gail Kiker, who said she offered to recuse herself. But other council members did not see a conflict of interest, she said. Other members could not immediately be reached.

The Marshville council will hold a special meeting Monday night to decide who should conduct the outside investigation.

Copyright 2008 The Charlotte Observer
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