The City of Salisbury, North Carolina, recently settled a lawsuit by Felicia Gibson against the city and Sgt. Mark Hunter for $25,000.  The lawsuit involved Hunter arresting Gibson for video-recording a traffic stop that was occurring in front of her home.

When I started looking into the matter, I found out something more interesting.  This isn’t the first such lawsuit that Hunter has been involved in, nor is it the first time that the city has settled a lawsuit alleging that Hunter violated a citizen’s rights.  Hunter and other Salisbury officers have been involved in the following:

  • In 2009, Hunter and former officer Kareem Puranda are accused of using excessive force against John and Michael Fox.  The video shows Puranda start to punch John Fox at 3:35 in the video.  The city is now in court-ordered mediation to settle the claim. 
  • In 2009, Hunter and Puranda were accused of using excessive force against Robin Otto Worth.  The city recently settled the lawsuit for $40,000.  Puranda was accused of striking Worth in the head with a pistol (commonly known as pistol-whipping), then punched, kicked, pepper sprayed and tasered him.  Puranda resigned during a N.C. State Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the incidents mentioned here.  Puranda was later charged with a federal civil rights violation (18 USC 241) and his criminal trial is pending in the U.S. District Court.
  • In 2009, Hunter and Puranda were accused of violating the rights of Felicia Gibson, who was filming a traffic stop in front of her home.  The city settled the lawsuit for $25,000.
  • In 2007, Puranda was accused of using excessive force against Wayne Partee at a traffic stop.  During a frisk, Puranda grabbed Partee and slammed him to the ground.  Partee suffered a broken collarbone, and the city settled for $60,000.  The incident was captured on Puranda’s squad car video.  A state district judge ruled that Puranda had no legal justification for the search.

What is interesting is that an internal affairs memo alerted the city before these incidents that Puranda was a liability to the city.  I’m speculating here, but the Salisbury P.D. is accredited by CALEA, which requires an “Early Warning” system to be in place to alert police management of loose cannons.  The early warning system is normally data driven, and measures specific items such as use of force reports, citizen complaints, lawsuits, etc., to decide if an officer has “performance” issues that could cause liability to the agency.  What is clear here, that despite being an accredited agency for over 20 years, the Salisbury Police do not have a firm grip on early warning.

During the period in question, both Hunter and Puranda were repeatedly given merit raises and both were promoted.  The two officer have already cost the city $125,000 in settlements, with more to come.

UPDATE:

Sgt. Hunter passed away from an apparent heart attack according to this article.

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