Monday, March 4, 2024

Update: Pender County Sheriff gets funding for body cameras as House bill seeks state-wide requirement

Pender County Sheriff Alan Cutler is proposing funding for 60 new body cameras. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Axon Enterprise)
Pender County Sheriff Alan Cutler is requesting funding for 60 new body cameras following two reported use-of-force incidents earlier in the year. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Axon Enterprise)

The Sheriff’s request came after two reported use-of-force incidents earlier this year. Meanwhile, state legislators introduced a bill that would require all law enforcement agencies to use body camera technology.

Update Tuesday — Pender County Commissioners approved Sheriff Alan Cutler’s request for funding. 

Cutler said a plan to implement body camera technology was already in the works before several use-of-force incidents that occurred earlier this year, although the camera footage would have been helpful during investigations of the incidents. Ultimately, Cutler said the decision came down to civil liability.

In the day and age that we live in, with civil liability, we could save the county thousands of dollars in a wrongful death lawsuit or anything like that where we could be covered by just having our own footage of an incident. That would protect us, the county, and the citizens of Pender County as well … It protects everybody involved.”

BURGAW — Pender County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) deputies may soon wear body cameras if the county agrees to fund the technology.

Following several use-of-force incidents involving PCSO deputies earlier this year, Sheriff Alan Cutler will propose funding for 60 body cameras that, if approved, would be a first for the county’s law enforcement officials. The funding request will take place during Monday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting.

Cutler’s request, combined with new tasers and data management software, totals nearly $240,000 spread out over five years.

Use of force incidents

In January, Detective Michael Wortman fired on a passenger after mistaking his flashlight for a handgun. Wortman slipped on wet grass while firing two shots into the vehicle and avoided hitting the passenger.

Weeks later District Attorney Ben David cleared Wortman and another officer of any wrongdoing, citing poor visibility in rainy conditions, the flashlight’s similar right-angle configuration as a handgun, the passenger’s refusal to drop the flashlight, and the officers’ heightened suspicion based on loaded weapons found during four previous traffic stops in the same area earlier that night.

“Their mistaken belief that the flashlight was a weapon will not be second-guessed in the cool calm of hindsight,” David said in a February press conference.

In March, Detective Wortman was again involved in a use-of-force incident after Atkinson resident Wayne Corbett resisted arrest and struck Wortman and another deputy. Corbett, who claimed he was tasered in the face, was taken to Pender Memorial Hospital after receiving bruising and swelling in the face as a result of the altercation. The deputies involved did not have a dash-camera on their vehicles and were not using body cams.

Again, David said no charges would be brought against the officers after reviewing accounts from several civilian witnesses.

It is not clear if these incidents are related to the request for body camera funding; a PCSO spokesperson could not be reached for comment in time of publication.

Statewide efforts

Cutler’s proposal also comes as state representative Cecil Brockman and other Democrats from the State’s House of Representatives attempt to pass House Bill 706, which would require law enforcement officers to wear and activate a body camera during interactions with the public. The bill also proposes $10 million in state funds to help provide body cameras for municipal and county law enforcement agencies.

“Ensuring safe interactions between law enforcement and the communities they serve is crucial for public safety. This bill works to build trust between those groups as it protects citizens by increasing transparency and protects law enforcement from false claims of misconduct,” Brockman told Government Technology magazine. 

The bill was introduced to the House floor on April 11. It would exempt recordings when officers contact confidential informants and undercover agents, when they enter a private residence under non-emergency circumstances, or when they conduct a strip search unless consent is given.


Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com

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