WARNING: The video contains profanity. Viewer discretion is advised. (Courtesy Holly Ridge Police Department)
HOLLY RIDGE — Amid a tumultuous few weeks for the Holly Ridge Police Department, a local resident has accused an officer of wrongful arrest and physical abuse after he drank a $1.50 beer inside a convenience store last July.
Chris “CJ” Maitland said a Holly Ridge police officer pinned him to the ground by placing a knee on his neck while accusing him of larceny for drinking a beer that he had attempted to pay for. While Maitland did use profanity and was uncooperative during the arrest, he says the original charge — larceny — was unfounded.
RELATED: Former Marine says Holly Ridge police went too far after ‘raiding’ his gym to enforce Covid-19 restrictions
Although the Onslow County District Court later upheld charges of resisting arrest and public consumption, a judge dismissed the larceny charge, according to a court clerk. On footage captured by various cameras mounted inside the patrol vehicle, as well as a body camera, Maitland is heard using excessive profanity while yelling at the officer and resisting arrest.
Several minutes after he was told to exit his vehicle and was handcuffed, the officer wrestled Maitland to the ground and held him there for five minutes, although the footage does not show if he is doing so by using a knee on his neck.
The accusation came while the department was under scrutiny for its handling of a local gym’s failure to close due to Covid-19 restrictions and the investigation, demotion, and replacement of the town’s police chief.
Maitland refuses arrest
During Maitland’s arrest, he repeated multiple times that he attempted to purchase the beer and even paid for the beer of the customer behind him in line.
In a recording of a 911 phone call, the manager of the town’s Speedway convenience store on Highway 17 is heard telling the dispatcher that “some dude opened the beer and started drinking it in the store before he bought it.”
According to Maitland, he first went to the counter with a can of Sweetwater 420 Pale Ale and a lottery ticket, but the clerk told him he incorrectly filled out the Pick 3 form. He went to a nearby counter to correct the ticket, he said, where he mistakenly opened the beer and took a few sips.
“And I start to fill it out, and in a brain fart, I opened the beer. Just not thinkin’,” he said.
He said when he returned to the front counter, the clerk told him, “I’m not going to let you pay for it.” After trying to persuade him to pay for the beer, he said he paid for a 24-pack of Budweiser for the man behind him.
He was pulled over by police less than a minute after he drove away from the store, according to Maitland, beside the police department building. As seen and heard in the dashboard and body camera footage, the officer told Maitland to exit his truck, and soon Maitland began his profanity-laced tirade against the officer while refusing for several minutes to get inside the patrol vehicle.
The officer then asked Maitland five times to get inside the squad car and told him he was now considered to be resisting arrest.
Maitland replied, “Better call for backup,” before the officer wrestled him to the ground. Maitland told him to “let go of my head.”
“Are you going to calmly get inside my vehicle?” the officer asked him.
“Nope, I’m going to resist you, because you got nothing on me,” Maitland responded.
Moments later he yelled, “Get off my neck! Get off my neck! You are such an idiot. Larceny — that’s gonna stick. After I paid for the guy’s beer behind me.”
“Did you pay for the beer you drank?” the officer asked.
“I offered to! He wouldn’t let me!” Maitland said.
At one point Maitland threatened the officer, saying he “was going to burn for this,” to which the officer replied, “Sir are you going get in my vehicle?”
“Nope,” Maitland replied.
The footage appears to show the officer continuing to hold Maitland down to the ground, but also calmly responding to insults while asking him questions.
In the incident report, the officer said he “brought Mr. Maitland to the ground and requested Central to send me assistance” after Maitland refused four different times to get in the back of the patrol car, resisting the officer on the last refusal.
A North Topsail Police car arrived shortly after, at which time Maitland’s truck was searched.
“As I walked to Mr. Maitland’s truck to secure it, I could hear Mr. Maitland yelling that I did not have permission to search his vehicle. When I looked back, I could see Mr. Maitland attempting to crawl out the window,” according to the officer’s incident report.
He said Maitland had “managed to bring his hands from the rear of his body to the front of his body and rolled down the window.”
“[The other officer] then retrieved his leather belt from his vehicle, and we secured Mr. Maitland in it,” the officer stated.
On the way to the Onslow County Jail in Jacksonville, the officer noted that he stopped by the convenience store to confirm Maitland “was the one who committed the larceny,” at which time the manager came out and informed Maitland he was no longer welcome at the store.
He was booked into the jail on charges of larceny, resisting a public officer, and possession of beer on an unauthorized premise. After his bond was set at $1,500, Maitland said his wife came to bail him out in the early hours after midnight.
The town remains silent
On Wednesday, Port City Daily sent an email to Mayor Jeff Wenzel and the other council members. The email described in detail Maitland’s accusations, including the officer allegedly pinning his neck to the ground with his knee for several minutes.
Councilmembers were also asked for their position on Maitland’s accusation that the incident showed a clear example of abuse of authority and wrongful arrest, and showed a pattern of misconduct by the police department.
Wenzel responded the same day, saying he had concerns about a request for answers by the end of the day.
“Is this a breaking story if the incident occurred 11 months ago? … I and two of the council members weren’t even on the town council when this happened,” Wenzel replied.
He was told Council could take an additional two days to reply, but since then there has been no response from Wenzel or any other councilmember.
Interim Police Chief Donnie Worrell said he had no comment on the matter.
On Friday, the town announced that Michael Sorg, Jr. will take over as the next chief of the police department. Town Manager Heather Reynolds said the town “will take this opportunity to focus on revamping our police services, concentrating more on community policing.”
Last week, Reynolds said that former police chief Keith Whaley had been demoted to the rank of major while Captain Ewan Richards is currently on leave because of an investigation into a personnel matter. According to Snap Fitness gym owner Nick Koumalatsos, a former Marine Raider, Captain Richards “raided” his gym for remaining open despite the governor’s orders to stay closed.
Whaley was seen on Koumalatsos’ home footage in support of his complaint against the captain.
“He said, ‘That should not have happened that way.’ He took the misdemeanor back and said he was going to void it and that we should have been on a warning schedule,” according to Koumalatsos.
Whaley told Channel 12 News that he was reprimanded for unsatisfactory performance of his duties, mostly directed towards his handling of the governor’s executive order to close certain businesses. He said he did not believe the investigation led to a fair outcome.
“[I] don’t feel it was right,” he said. “We were trying to do the right thing. I don’t think some people wholeheartedly agree with this.”
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