Police open internal probe in alleged gun incident involving two youngsters
Apr 06, 2012 (The Fayetteville Observer - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The Fayetteville Police Department has opened an internal investigation of a case involving a Fayetteville man who was charged after being accused of pointing a gun at two boys who took two balloons from his open house sign.
The move announced Thursday comes a day after lawyer Allen Rogers, who is representing the family of one of the boys, complained that police did not file criminal charges against the man after responding to the call and speaking with an eyewitness and the boys.
"This is outrageous conduct," Rogers said in a prepared statement issued Wednesday.
Caleb Barrieau, of the 200 block of Steamboat Court, turned himself in Monday evening after a magistrate issued misdemeanor warrants for communicating threats, assault by pointing a gun and simple assault, said Gavin MacRoberts, Fayetteville police spokesman.
Barrieau has not responded to calls seeking comment.
Complaint prompts probe
The internal investigation is based on a complaint, MacRoberts said, but he's not sure who lodged it.
"I know we're looking at the incident and circumstances surrounding it," he said. "I don't have all the details we're looking into."
MacRoberts said he was not aware of any suspensions, with or without pay. In the department's incident report, Officer A. Comer is listed as the investigating officer.
On Wednesday, MacRoberts said the department acted appropriately by gathering information and providing it to Tonya Yates, the mother of one of the two boys who filed charges against Barrieau. The officers informed her of her options. Comer's decision not to charge Barrieau was based on the circumstances at that moment, MacRoberts said.
Troy Williams, a lead activist on the issue of police consent searches, sent an email Thursday to Mayor Tony Chavonne and members of the Fayetteville City Council expressing his concerns with how the police department handled this case.
"For unknown reasons, police did not make immediate contact with the suspects but later when they returned to their residence," Williams said in the email to city leaders. "... when police eventually contacted the witness and the victims family they were told the suspects denied the witness' version of the incident and that since it was 'hearsay' their (sic) was nothing police could do ..."
MacRoberts declined to comment when asked if the investigation was prompted by Williams' email.
Chavonne said he didn't know who made the complaint, and he was unaware of any formal complaint having been filed against the department.
"There is dialogue among council members," he said.
The mayor added, "It's a legitimate question that needs to be asked and answered, and I commend the staff for taking the initiative on this."
Williams called the internal investigation fair "because it's about transparency. And I articulated in my email, my concern is that there have been a lot of discussions about consent searches and searches of motorists and confiscation of guns. Here is an allegation of a passenger in a car pointing a gun at some youngsters, and the response was not substantial enough to get that person in the car to determine if he had a gun."
Rogers, the Yates' family lawyer, said he was pleased to hear an internal police investigation is under way.
"When one considers that an independent eyewitness called 911 and reported the fact of seeing a person with a gun in the face of any child, I think that would have warranted it from an immediate police response," he said. "It's important to believe that the law protects everybody. If we allow any other message than that, it creates a community that is not healthy to any of us."
How the case began
The Sunday encounter, according to police and 911 recordings, took place at 1:17 p.m. near the Food Lion on Morganton Road when Yates' 12-year-old son and a 13-year-old friend were walking home.
At 2:49 p.m., someone called Fayetteville police to report someone had pulled a gun on two children. Officers couldn't find the people involved when they responded. An hour later, police got a call from Yates and later identified Barrieau as the suspect.
In her 911 call, Yates told the dispatcher her son and his friend had picked up balloons that had been on an open house sign but were floating freely on the ground. After conferring with her son, Yates said in the call, a white man driving a black four-door SUV with a female passenger pulled up to the boys.
"He said, 'Who do you think you are taking my balloons?' " Yates said in the 911 call. " 'Welcome to my neighborhood. Welcome to my neighborhood. I could shoot you right now. ... Oh, my goodness. Oh, my God. The white dude stopped black boys over some balloons.' "
Ex-neighbor, eyewitness weigh in
Sgt. Terry Tucker, who is now stationed at Fort Hood, was Barrieau's next-door neighbor when he was based at Fort Bragg.
Tucker, who said he has known Barrieau for a couple of years, called him a mild-mannered guy.
"We carry our guns everywhere we go. We all wore it openly because we could," he said. "To say he pulled it on a child, I have to witness it with my eyes and somebody has to poke me with a needle to say that happened. That's so far from his character. He's never used a racial slur around me. He's just a pretty laid-back guy."
The eyewitness to the incident, who made the initial 911 call, said she doesn't believe the department handled the case correctly. The woman, who asked that her name not be published, said she is 35 and from Fayetteville.
"The man still has his weapon," she said. "I don't understand how his wife wasn't charged when she was the driver, being another adult in the car.
"It was a $1.99 balloon, if that. You just couldn't let that go?"
Staff writer Michael Futch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3529.
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