A Lincoln County sheriff's deputy was fired after he reported a supervisor choking a suspect whose hands were cuffed behind his back. Agents with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation have been unable to investigate the whistleblower's report because the local district attorney will...
WBTV Investigates: Lincoln Co. deputy speaks out about excessive force as DA stalls SBI investigation
By Nick Ochsner
Published: Aug. 8, 2022 at 4:05 PM EDT|Updated: 16 hours ago
LINCOLNTON, N.C. (WBTV) – Barry Green’s mugshot tells a story. He’s got a fresh wound on one swollen cheek. Both eyes are black; one also has fresh scars. His mouth appears to be swollen, his lips pursed at an uncomfortable angle.
Green was arrested by deputies with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office on May 28 for driving while impaired, assault on a government officer and resisting a public officer, all misdemeanors.
The chain of events that led to the swollen, bruised and bloody mugshot has roiled the sheriff’s office for months. Now, the arresting deputy in the case is speaking out to detail what he has reported to be excessive force used by his supervisor during the arrest.
The chain of events that led to the swollen, bruised and bloody mugshot has roiled the sheriff’s office for months.
That deputy, Tyler Thompson, worked at the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office until Wednesday of last week when he was fired. His dismissal came one day after he reported his concerns to the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation.
Despite Thompson’s report, public records obtained by WBTV show the SBI is being prevented from investigating the incident by Lincoln County District Attorney Mike Miller.
‘I’m like, holy crap’
According to the narrative Thompson filed with the report of Green’s arrest, Thompson stopped Green late on the evening of May 28 after he and his partner got a call about an aggressive driver.
That call led Thompson and another deputy to find Green, who had just pulled into the driveway of his house. According to Thompson’s narrative of the arrest, Green’s car was still running when he pulled up.
Thompson’s narrative said Green smelled like alcohol and appeared to be drunk.
As Thompson and his partner tried to put Green under arrest, his narrative said, Green shoved the deputies and tried to go into his house.
By his own report, Thompson recounted dropping Green to the ground with a leg sweep, punching him in the face a total of six times, using a taser on Green and delivering two knee strikes to his lower back, all in an effort, he wrote, to place Green under arrest.
But, once Green was in handcuffs, Thompson said, the force stopped and the deputies called for an ambulance.
While deputies were waiting for paramedics to arrive and tend to Green’s injuries, Thompson’s sergeant, Joe Sutton, arrived on scene.
According to Thompson’s narrative, Green got agitated with Sutton while sitting on the tailgate of his truck waiting for EMS.
Thompson described what happened next in his narrative as follows:
“I returned to the driveway and Sergeant Sutton was speaking with him. I heard Sergeant Sutton state ‘too bad I didn`t do a fukking thing dikkhead.’ 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 fukking 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.”
In an interview with WBTV, Thompson said he was shocked to see Sutton grab Green by the throat while Green’s hands were cuffed behind his back.
“The suspect was sitting on the back of the truck and my supervisor grabs him by the throat to the point where it’s firm enough to where I hear an audible struggle and it was with his right hand and I’m like, holy crap,” Thompson recalled.
“I’m like, OK, I’m going to have to jump on him because this is completely illegal.”
According to Thompson’s narrative, Sutton continued to use aggressive force on Green as the deputies walked him to the ambulance.
“I saw Sergeant Sutton place his left hand on Barry`s middle upper back and push forward. Barry fell forward and landed inside of the ambulance,” the narrative said.
In his interview with WBTV, Thompson said Green landed on his face.
“He ends up falling on his face in the ambulance, which is bad because I had to strike him in the face. His face was already injured,” Thompson said.
“He’s in handcuffs, we’ve got to take care of him. He’s got to get medical attention. Why are we causing more?”
Eventually, Green was checked out by EMS and taken to the jail to have a blood sample drawn for a DWI.
An edited report, a call to the SBI
Thompson said he wrote his narrative based on what he saw when he watched the incident back on his body camera video.
His report spanned more than five pages of detailed synopsis outlining what happened, including with the force Sutton—his supervisor—used on Green.
But when it came time for Sutton to Approve Thompson’s report, Thompson said, Sutton refused.
According to a whistleblower complaint Thompson would later file with the SBI, Sutton wanted him to make two changes to his description of the encounter between Sutton and Green: edit his report to say Sutton grabbed Green’s neck, not his throat, and take out the word ‘firm.’
“The personal conversation we had while he was giving me these edits in person was because it sounds better,” Thompson recalled in his interview with WBTV.
Thompson said he resisted making the requested changes but every time he submitted the report for approval, Sutton would send it back.
Ultimately, Thompson said, he ended up making the changes.
“I felt like it was not going to be approved and he’s the only approving individual,” Thompson told WBTV.
The incident got the attention of supervisors at the sheriff’s office. Thompson was given a one-day suspension for what supervisors ruled was an inappropriate use of his taser.
Sutton, Thompson said, was suspended for three days in a disciplinary action handed down before Thompson even gave his report to the group of LCSO supervisors conducting an internal affairs investigation.
When he learned Sutton was given a three-day suspension, Thompson said he was flabbergasted.
“They give him a three-day suspension for literally committing a felony on somebody,” he said.
“That is so unfair,” Thompson continued. “It means you just get less of a punishment because you’re a part of the good old boy club and you’re a sergeant.”
But Thompson was also under the impression that agents with the SBI had been called to review the incident.
His suspicions began to mount, though, when more than a month passed without anyone from the SBI calling him to do an interview.
So, Thompson said, he called an SBI agent in late July to check on the status of the investigation.
“I wanted to know an answer. I wanted, hey give me the details on this, you know, cop to cop, what’s going on with this?” Thompson said.
But the agent on the other end of the phone didn’t know what Thompson was talking about.
“He had no idea. He had no idea at all.”
DA hasn’t authorized SBI investigation
Emails obtained through a public records request from the SBI show the agent Thompson talked with–Tom Ammons, Special Agent in Charge of the Professional Standards and Compliance Unit—forwarded Thompson’s complaint to Miller, the district attorney whose district includes Lincoln County, within hours.
Thompson made his whistleblower complaint to Ammons in a phone call around noon on Tuesday, August 2. Ammons’ email to Miller was sent just after 1:30 p.m.
Miller responded that same afternoon and said he needed to watch body camera video of the incident before deciding whether to open an investigation. Ammons said he didn’t have the video and Miller replied to say he would get it himself from the sheriff’s office.
As of Friday, an SBI spokeswoman told WBTV that Miller had not authorized an investigation. Without authorization from the DA or sheriff, the SBI does not have jurisdiction to investigate the incident.
In an email to WBTV, Miller said he was made aware of this incident last Tuesday and was “doing [his] best to look into this allegation.”
Even though Miller did not authorize an SBI investigation, he did call the sheriff’s office to tell them that Thompson had filed a complaint.
Miller did not respond to a follow-up email from WBTV raising additional questions about his call to the sheriff’s office or his refusal, to date, to authorize an SBI investigation.
Thompson said he got a call just before 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday night from the LCSO major telling him the command staff knew he had reported his concerns to the SBI.
The next day, on Wednesday afternoon, the major called again. This time Thompson was told to bring his stuff to the office because he was being fired.
Thompson said the major told him he was being fired for using foul language during an incident in early June.
“Does that feel like a coincidence to you?” a WBTV reporter asked.
“It’s not a coincidence, it’s not,” Thompson responded.
Beam, the Sheriff, did not respond to a request from WBTV for comment.
Thompson said he is still glad he took steps to report his concerns.
“I took an oath,” he said. “And that oath isn’t to protect bad people and the bad acts they’re doing. My oath is to protect my citizens.”
“It was a situation where I felt like if I didn’t do something, he would get away with it and the only time bad people get away with bad things is when good people decide to stand by and do nothing,” Thompson continued.
“If this is the last thing I ever do in law enforcement, I’m OK with that.”