The town of Coats, NC is facing another lawsuit concerning police misconduct. The last was settled out of court in 2006. This one concerns three plaintiffs who allege police wrongdoing over a period of 6 years. Among the allegations are police brutality, false arrests, and harassment.
Among the officers named in the suit is Kelly W. Fields, one who reportedly had a reputation for being particularly harsh. According to the Fayetteville Observer the suit states that Fields “’had a reputation for being a brutal police officer among many blacks in Harnett County,’ and that black residents ‘expected to get a beat-down if they were stopped by Fields at night.’”
There are three plaintiffs, Derek Ballentine, David Carlton Strickland, and his mother Connie Williams Strickland. The Stricklands are both white and Ballentine is black. Many would think in this day in age race wouldn’t matter, but in the rural south it often still does.
Ballentine claims in 2004 he was approached in a convenience store by Officer Fields. Fields asked if he could search Ballentine, to which Ballentine consented. During the patdown, Fields reached in Ballentine’s pocket and squeezed his genitals hard. This caused Ballentine to jump away and allegedly gave Fields cause to arrest him for resisting an officer. The charges were later dropped.
Again in 2009, Ballentine had a negative run-in with Fields, when he was pulled over while driving. Ballentine was allegedly cuffed and sprayed with pepper spray five times, with the majority of these sprays occurring while Ballentine was reportedly on the ground with his hands cuffed behind his back. On this date, Fields is also accused of beating Ballentine’s head into the ground and kicking him as he lay prone.
As for the Stricklands’ part of the suit, it alleges both false arrests and police brutality after the mother and son both had Tasers used on them.
Small police agencies present unique problems not seen in the cities. There seems to be less accountability in part because there is less of a public outcry. Smaller towns seem more likely to tolerate rogue officers simply because that’s the way it’s always been—a necessary evil.
This civil suit could bring some relief to the small town of Coats, though it’s questionable since many of the alleged incidents took place after the 2006 suit.
When you are accused of a criminal offense, no matter where you are, it helps to know someone is on your side. The police and the prosecutor definitely won’t be. And while you might not be a victim of police brutality, the conduct of the police during your arrest and search are crucial in determining the outcome of your case.