Councilman charges sheriff, deputies fomented 'near riot'

Feb. 20, 2013 @ 05:48 AM

Sheriff’s deputies let Saturday’s Indian Trail Town Council meeting reach “near-riot conditions,” one councilman wrote on his Facebook page Monday.

Robert Allen posted the news to his friends-only Facebook page that someone damaged his truck which was parked in the town lot during the Saturday evening meeting. He reported the damage to the N.C. Highway Patrol at about 5 p.m. Sunday.

Allen said he reported the damage to the N.C. Highway Patrol. The investigating trooper estimated damage at $750, Allen said by phone Tuesday.

“Anything else, I’m going to refer you to the report. It’s all in there,” Allen said.

In his Facebook comments, he blamed angry meeting attendees who he said were encouraged to act out by Union County Sheriff’s deputies who should have kept the meeting more orderly. Specifically, Allen blamed Sheriff Eddie Cathey for overlooking his employees’ aggressive behavior.

“It is unbelievable. I’ve never seen so many low life’s (sic) organized by the very entity that is sworn to keep the peace. The meeting went to total chaos while the Sheriff stood in the back of the room and watched. His on (sic) Lt. was a major contributor to the near riot conditions,” Allen wrote.

Soon after posting, Allen’s friends-only comments were screen-capped and spread among Indian Trail residents. Though intended for a selected audience, the comments from a town councilman who earlier said he supported the UCSO caused a stir. His references to the meeting attendees especially caused a reaction.

“It was like looking out and seeing the Children of the Corn. Pure unadulterated evil,” Allen wrote.

Saturday, the council met to discuss negotiations about a proposed service contract with the sheriff’s department. After several months of talking about the current contract that expires in June, the town gave Cathey a draft contract. In a reply email, Cathey strongly criticized the contract for the terms and language of the draft.

A number of residents attended the meeting carrying signs supporting the UCSO. When Councilwoman Darlene Luther moved to end contract negotiations with the sheriff’s office and start a town police department, the crowd’s disappointment was expressed vocally. When Mayor Michael Alvarez initially said he supported a police department, several people yelled comments at him. Some loudly left the building. Others held signs higher and applauded Councilman David Cohn when he criticized Alvarez for his statement. 

The council allowed Lt. Chase Coble to

see riot/page a7

speak during the meeting. He read an email Allen sent to Capt. Cody Luke. While speaking, Coble spoke forcefully and often pointed at Luther. Allen’s Facebook post said Coble was out of line.

“The only difference is the Sheriff has finally come from behind the curtain. He stood in the back of the room and did nothing. Even when his Lt. came unhinged nothing (sic),” Allen wrote.

Cathey disagreed. Allen’s Facebook comments were brought to his attention, but the sheriff denied his deputies encouraged audience aggression or that Coble’s actions were unprofessional.

“The crowd there was loud, but it loudness is not the same as riot-stage,” Cathey said. “There was a lot of emotion in the room. I saw it, but I saw no one making overly aggressive actions toward anybody. And to be honest, that’s a public meeting and I believe the public has a right to get emotional over a subject. Not aggressive, but emotional.”

Allen’s comments reflected his concern over rising anger at the meeting and reluctance to continue an agreement with the sheriff’s office.

“The GOBN (sic) is still alive and well. We try to make light of it but it is truly frightening to see these animals screaming and yelling for blood and have the cage keepers not only open the doors to let them out but work them up into a frenzy with their own bad behavior. It was like a lynch mob scene from a bad B movie. There’s noway (sic) I want to enter into a relationship with an organization that not only condoned this type of behavior but participates in it.”

Later, Allen wrote that Cathey spoke to him and Luther after the meeting about an upcoming benefit for Luther’s daughter. Cathey said a deputy would be there.

“Guess wha? Nobody showed up. Big surprise hud? (sic) Truth is the last place I want them is behind me in a shooting range. Just might have an accidental discharge. Oops. Me bad. (sic)” Allen wrote.

The suggestion that his deputies would shoot Allen, by accident or on purpose, was “pretty scary, especially coming from a supposed responsible elected official,” Cathey said.

Tueday, Allen said his private Facebook comments should have remained private. His vehicle was damaged, mostly likely at the meeting, and most likely because of his position on the police department, Allen said.

“I will point out that my Facebook page is friends only. so all that is set to private,” Allen said. “They’re stalking Facebook for a reason.”

And while his candid comments make him an easy target for anyone wanting to lambaste his opinions, Allen said he was honest about how he feels.

“Everything in there is true,” Allen said.

When told Cathey knew of the written comments, Allen was unsurprised.

“They have all the equipment necessary to find that out,” he said.

Cathey said the comments will not affect his office’s discussion with the town about the service contract.

“We’re working with the town manager and some of the council members and we think that everything has been worked out and we’re moving forward,” Cathey said.