GASTON COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell said he has recently spent hours dismissing dozens of traffic citations that were written by officers from the Ranlo Police Department. Bell said the tickets are being dismissed because they were issued by Ranlo officers who had been pulling drivers over in Gastonia.
"Ranlo police officers, rather than patrolling in Ranlo, were spending much of their time patrolling in Gastonia," said Bell in an interview Wednesday night.
Bell said he first learned of the situation after a Ranlo police officer pulled over an undercover police officer from the Gastonia Police Department. He said he started to investigate how many other times a similar situation had happened.
"I have dismissed somewhere around 115 (tickets) that were pending," said Bell.
He said the majority of the tickets written by Ranlo officers were traffic-related. Bell said many of the citations had been issued for expired tags.
The district attorney said an officer can leave their jurisdiction to pursue a speeder or a drunk driver, but they are only supposed to go a mile outside of their town.
"You're not supposed to be outside in another city setting up speed, radar," explained Bell.
Ranlo Police Chief Tim Anderson defended the actions of his officers in a phone interview Wednesday night.
"I'm not familiar with a situation where they went outside the scope of their jurisdiction," said Anderson about his officers.
He cited North Carolina general statute 160A-286 which clarifies extraterritorial jurisdiction of policemen.
"They are not patrolling at all in Gastonia. They do circle the area," explained Anderson.
He said his officers stop to get gas in Gastonia and work off-duty security jobs in Gastonia, but know when and where they are allowed to do police work. He hopes to keep the public focus on the positive work his officers do.
"We all take the same oath. We're out here trying to do the same thing. If we can take a drunk driver off the street, if we can take more heroin off the street, more methamphetamine off the street. We all know these are serious issues. How is that not making things better?' the chief questioned.
Bell said he sent Anderson an email about the citation issue several weeks ago and never got a response back. Anderson said he didn't even find out about the email until he was contacted by WBTV Wednesday night. He said that if his officers were making stops outside of their jurisdiction, the citations would be dismissed and he would take appropriate action at his department. He said he plans to discuss the issue with Bell.
The district attorney said taxpayers in Ranlo may be concerned if the officers are patrolling in a different municipality.
"I can't get out there and stop them from patrolling-only the voters in Ranlo who see their property tax money going to pay their officers to go and patrol in Gastonia," said Bell.
He said no serious legal issues had developed because of any of the citations in question, but did give insight into what could potentially happen if one of the traffic stops led to a more serious crime.
"If it was an unlawful stop and they found evidence of a crime, then it would be a serious question as to whether that evidence would come into court," said Bell.
He said he is still investigating the situation and has not determined whether the traffic stops conducted by Ranlo officers in Gastonia can be deemed illegal.