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Carolinas Verdicts

Find out about the most important recent North and South Carolina cases, selected by VerdictSearch editors. Coverage includes Gaston, Mecklenburg and Wake counties in North Carolina and Charleston, Horry and Richland in South Carolina.

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State trooper allegedly fired for violating truthfulness policy

Amount:

$1,100,000

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

North Carolina

Venue:

Wake County

Court:

Wake County Superior Court

Case Type:

Government - Police; Employment - Retaliation, Whistleblower, Wrongful Termination

Case Name:

Reginald Newberne v. Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, an Agency of the State of North Carolina, Division of the State Highway Patrol, Bryan E. Beatty, in his official capacity as Secretary of the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, Richard W. Holden, in his official capacity as Commanding Officer of the Division of State Highway Patrol, C.E. Moody, in his official capacity as Director of Internal Affairs for Division of State Highway Patrol and A.C. Combs, in his individual and official capacity as First Sergeant with the Division of State Highway Patrol, No. 02CV004500

Date:

September 28, 2016

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Reginald Newberne (Male, 33 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Michael P. Doyle; Doyle LLP; Houston, TX, for Reginald Newberne ■ J. Heydt Philbeck; Bailey & Dixon, LLP; Raleigh, NC, for Reginald Newberne

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Mel Tucker; Police Practices & Procedures; Raleigh, NC called by: Michael P. Doyle ■ Gary Albrecht; Ph.D.; Economics; Winston-Salem, NC called by: Michael P. Doyle

Defendant(s):

A.C. Combs, 

C.E. Moody, 

Bryan E. Beatty, 

Richard W. Holden, 

Department of Crime Control and Public Safety

Defense Attorney(s):

Tammera Hill; Assistant Attorney General, North Carolina Department of Justice; Raleigh, NC, for A.C. Combs, C.E. Moody, Bryan E. Beatty, Richard W. Holden, Department of Crime Control and Public Safety

Facts:

On May 14, 2000, plaintiff Reginald Newberne, 33, a state highway patrolman, responded to the scene of an arrest near Fayetteville. A teenager had been arrested after attempting to flee state troopers during a traffic stop. At the scene, Newberne spoke with one of the troopers, Phillip Collins, after noticing Collins had injured his hand. Newberne claimed that Collins said that he had struck the suspect. During an investigation resulting from a formal complaint about the arrest, Collins claimed to have injured his hand after falling. Newberne initially failed to mention his conversation with Collins but later amended his story to note that Collins mentioned hitting the suspect. The Department of Crime Control and Public Safety investigated Newberne over his failure to disclose the incident. Newberne was terminated on April 10, 2001, after he was found to have violated the department's truthfulness policy. Newberne sued his employer, the state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, Division of the State Highway Patrol. The case caption was later amended to note the entity's current name, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. Newberne alleged he was terminated as punishment for reporting the wrongdoing of a fellow officer. He alleged this was in violation of state Whistleblower Protection Act (NC Gen. State. 126-84). Internal affairs director C.E. Moody, First Sergeant A.C. Combs, Secretary of the Department of Crime Control Bryan Beatty and State Highway Patrol division commanding officer Richard Holden were initially named as defendants but were dismissed prior to trial. Prior to trial, the department attempted to argue that Newberne's claim should be barred as he agreed to an administrative settlement of a grievance administration claim in exchange for one year of back pay. In a state supreme court decision, it was found these proceedings do not interfere with Newberne's claim. Newberne noted that another officer later corroborated his conversation with Collins and that the other officer was not terminated despite amending an earlier account of the event. He further alleged that Collins himself was found to have fabricated a breathalyzer report in 2007 but his termination was overturned. The public safety department argued that Newberne did not engage in protected activity as he failed to give a complete statement when questioned initially and did not actually witness any assault. The defense called Capt. William Evans, the head of the highway patrol's internal-affairs division, to testify. He stated that highway patrolmen were always terminated if found in violation of the department's truthfulness policy. The defense also called Secretary Beatty to testify as a fact witness. He testified that Newberne's termination was warranted under the circumstances. The defense also moved to argue that the lawsuit filed against Collins and other officers resulted in a finding of no excessive force. The judge denied this motion.

Injury:

Newberne complained of difficulty finding work following his termination, arguing he was barred from high paying positions within law enforcement because of his termination. Newberne has subsequently worked many different positions in law enforcement and current serves as a college campus police officer. Newberne alleged the experience caused him to develop extreme depression and emotional distress. The plaintiff's expert economist projected total economic damages at $780,000. Newberne's expert on police policies and procedures testified that he believed Newberne's termination was retaliatory and that the department did not adequately follow its internal policies. The defense disputed Newberne's alleged damages, arguing that Newberne's career did not appear to have suffered as he was still actively employed in law enforcement. The defense also disputed Newberne's claims for emotional distress, arguing his termination occurred 14 years prior to trial.

Result:

The jury found that there had been a causal connection between Newberne engaging in a protected activity and his termination. It found this termination was in violation of the Whistleblower Act. Newberne was awarded $700,000 in economic damages and $400,000 in noneconomic damages. Under the Whistleblower Act, the award of $1.1 million may be trebled to $3.3 million in an upcoming hearing. The award was augmented by $450,000 in pre-judgment interest as well as attorney fees.

Reginald Newberne: $700,000 Personal Injury: Economic Damages; $400,000 Personal Injury: Non-Economic Damages

Trial Information:

Judge:

Michael J. O'Fogludha

Trial Length:

1  weeks

Trial Deliberations:

11  hours

Jury Vote:

unanimous

Jury Composition:

7 women/ 5 men

Post Trial:

Newberne's motion for judgment and attorneys fees is pending. Defense counsel intends to move for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

Editor's Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff's and defense counsel.