Lincoln Co. DA requests SBI investigation after WBTV exposes excessive force allegations

District attorney had stalled investigation until WBTV’s questions
They're investigating an arrest in which a sergeant with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office reportedly choked a man whose hands were cuffed behind his back.
Published: Aug. 11, 2022 at 4:33 PM EDT
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LINCOLNTON, N.C. (WBTV) – The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation is investigating an arrest in which a sergeant with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office reportedly choked a man whose hands were cuffed behind his back.

An SBI spokeswoman confirmed the investigation to WBTV on Thursday, days after our investigation first exposed the incident and its fallout.

Until WBTV’s investigation, the SBI had been prevented from investigating. In order to have jurisdiction to investigate, the agency needs authorization from either the sheriff or district attorney.

Emails obtained by WBTV through a public records request show the SBI first contacted District Attorney Mike Miller, whose district includes Lincoln County, on Tuesday, August 2 about Thompson’s report.

Miller responded that same day to say he needed to watch video of the incident before authorizing an investigation.

An attorney for LCSO said Miller got a copy of the video the next day, on Wednesday, August 3.

Previous: He reported his supervisor choking a handcuffed man. Then he was fired.

Despite that, Miller still had not authorized the SBI to open an investigation as of Friday, August 5, when WBTV contacted Miller to request comment for our investigation.

On Monday, August 8, Miller sent WBTV an email saying he was “doing [his] best to look into this allegation.”

An SBI spokeswoman said Miller requested the SBI open an investigation that same day, Monday, August 8.

Deputy said he was forced to change his report

Tyler Thompson was fired from his job as a deputy with the sheriff’s office one day after calling the SBI to report concerns about his sergeant’s actions during the arrest.

Thompson was the arresting officer during the incident in question, which took place late on the evening on May 28.

Barry Green was arrested and charged with driving while impaired, assault on a government officer and resisting a public officer, all misdemeanors.

In an interview with WBTV, Thompson said he had to use force—including punching him in the face a total of six times, stunning him with a taser and using knee strikes to his lower back—to get Green in handcuffs. Thompson detailed that force in the narrative he filed as part of Green’s arrest report, which he later shared with the SBI.

But, Thompson said, he stopped using force as soon as Green was in custody.

According to Thompson’s narrative, Green was sitting on the tailgate of his truck talking to Thompson’s sergeant, Joe Sutton, when he saw Sutton choke Green while the suspect’s hands were cuffed behind his back.

Thompson’s narrative described what he saw this way:

“I returned to the driveway and Sergeant Sutton was speaking with him. I heard Sergeant Sutton state ‘too bad I didn`t do a fucking thing dickhead.’ this (sic) led me to believe that Barry was once again aggressive. Barry then stood up and stated, ‘if you ever touch me again’. Sergeant Sutton and I both put out hands on his chest to attempt to get him to sit back down. Sergeant Sutton gave the command ‘Sit down’ and I directed him to stop his actions. Sergeant Sutton used both hands to push him down onto the tailgate and then got into his face and stated, ‘Sit down and don`t ever, ever fucking threaten me again’. Sergeant Sutton was close to Barry`s face currently. Barry then stated ‘if you ever touch me again’ and was then cut short due to Sergeant Sutton saying ‘You hear.’, (sic) and then grabbing his neck with his right hand. I heard a struggle coming from Barry. I passed the camera to Deputy Ginther and was going to intervene, but Sergeant Sutton had released him by that point.”

Document: Read email thread with Thompson’s full narrative and SBI summary sent to DA

In making his report to the SBI, Thompson said Sutton—his supervisor—made him change words in his report regarding Sutton’s use of force on Green.

“Sergeant Sutton made Thompson change two items of his report before approving,” a SBI special agent’s summary of Thompson’s report to the agency said.

“Thompson was to change ‘throat’ to ‘neck’ and was to take out the word ‘firm’ out as to how he grabbed the neck of Green. Thompson made the changes to the report because the sergeant denied the reports until it was done.”

Fired after calling SBI

Thompson was suspended for one day after his supervisors determined he inappropriately used his taser to stun Green during the arrest. Sutton, who was reported as having choked Green with his hands behind his back, was suspended for three days.

But Thompson was called into the office and fired from the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday, August 3, just one day after his conversation with the SBI special agent.

Thompson said he was fired for using foul language during a call in early June.

Lincoln County Sheriff Bill Beam has not responded to multiple requests for comment regarding Green’s arrest or Thompson’s firing.

But in a court filing on Thursday, an attorney for Beam denied any connect between Thompson’s report to the SBI and his firing but acknowledged the two things took place within days of each other.

“The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office was notified by another deputy on Tuesday, August 2, 2022 that Thompson had contacted the SBI and the Petitioner regarding the Arrest. Thompson was terminated on Thursday, August 4, 2022 for conduct related to multiple incidents, including the Arrest,” the legal filing said.

“This termination was the last in a series of disciplinary actions of increasing severity, including written warnings and suspensions. Thompson’s termination was not related to his correspondence with the SBI, as alleged by Petitioner.”

It is not clear why LCSO claims Thompson was fired one day later than when he was called to the office by his major and told he was being fired.

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