Wrightsville Beach police probes officer conduct

by Pat Bradford and Patricia E. Matson
Thursday, February 2, 2012

Three full-time Wrightsville Beach police officers were placed on paid administrative leave, Chief Dan House said on Tuesday, Jan. 31. The department has been pursuing an internal investigation since December, he said.

Suspended in two separate incidents are Sgt. R. Miller, Patrolmen S. Appler and
M. Altillio. All are veteran officers. Both Altillio and Appler are former detectives now working as patrol officers.

House said he hopes the situation will be resolved within two weeks and plans to update the town board on Feb. 2.

"We’re pretty much wrapped up with the investigation, but we’re going through all the steps and phases that we have to go through," House said.

He explained that administrative leave is different from a punitive suspension. At present, the officers simply are not actively working while the department awaits the outcome of the process.

"There’s a series of things that have happened," House said. He said state law prevents him from specifying the nature of the problems until he sends a report to the town. The report will then become public record.

House briefly informed the board of aldermen about the investigation during the board’s closed session at its Jan. 12 meeting.

"I can’t release anything until we’ve made a final decision," he said Wednesday, Feb. 1. Because of the level of internal investigation involved, he added, the results for the individual officers could be anything from simple disciplinary action to termination.

He did indicate that social media might be the cause of the story leaking out to the press earlier this week.

Unconfirmed reports indicate that Miller and Appler are under investigation for actions that began with a domestic disturbance call. The officers allegedly transported the female victim off the beach, where the altercation occurred, into Wilmington where they unexpectedly encountered the male suspect. The entire episode is said to have been conducted in concert with Wilmington police, but when faced with the suspect in a vehicle in front of them, Miller and Appler placed the suspect under arrest. The arrest, geographically out of the officers’ jurisdiction, is under investigation.

In the second administrative action, officer M. Altillio is under investigation for conduct in his personal life that has been questioned as reflecting poorly on the officer and the department. Police officers are mandated to live their personal lives above reproach.

House, new to the department in July 2011 explained Tuesday that the investigations were triggered internally rather than by any kind of complaint by the public. Because a court case is involved, the department has been in contact with the district attorney’s office, but he said that no agencies other than Wrightsville Beach are pursuing the investigation.

The police department has 23 full-time officers.

Alderman Bill Sisson has repeatedly raised concerns about the department’s understaffing, with overtime increasing and with the beach patrol officer frequently pulled aside to fill in gaps. However, House said that putting the three officers on leave has not hurt effectiveness.

"Luckily, we’ve been able to work it out. … There may be a few overtime hours that we’ll spend, but for the most part, it’s not going to change our manpower on patrol. We’re just taking internal assets we had dedicated to other areas," he explained.

"It’s certainly a strain. This is a temporary solution pending the outcome of the investigation," House added.

This story has been updated since it was posted online on www.LuminaNews.com on
Jan. 31.

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