Trooper ‘separated’ from highway patrol as SBI probes ticketing in Harnett County

The State Highway Patrol on Wednesday said a trooper has been “separated” from the force and another is under investigation as the State Bureau of Investigation probes “ticket irregularities” in Harnett County.

Sgt. Michael Baker, a patrol spokesman, confirmed the investigation on Monday and said the patrol is conducting an “independent internal” probe, but referred other questions to the SBI. After The News & Observer reported the investigation Tuesday, Baker said in a news release that one trooper had been “separated” from the patrol after a supervisor discovered ticketing irregularities during a weekly review of citations.

“The SHP internal investigation was focused on tickets issued by a single trooper who has subsequently been separated from the Highway Patrol,” Baker said. “That same investigation, however, resulted in the discovery of additional evidence related to the possible involvement of another trooper which is now part of an ongoing investigation.”

Baker did not identify either trooper in his news release, but later, in response to an N&O request, disclosed the following personnel actions involving patrol who had been working out of Harnett County.

Trooper Jason R. Benson, a nine-year veteran, was “separated” on Monday, and is no longer employed by the patrol.

Trooper Christopher S. Carter, a five-year veteran, is on administrative duty pending an ongoing internal investigation.

Gov. Roy Cooper called for a thorough investigation Wednesday.

“I absolutely have concerns and I know the department would have concerns,” the governor told reporters at a news conference. “I don’t know how much detail has been discussed but that matter needs to be thoroughly investigated and whatever action needs to be taken should be taken.”

Baker said the state personnel law “prohibits the patrol from providing a detailed response to some of the questions posed.”

The law does include a provision known as the “integrity exemption” that allows agency leaders to provide more information about personnel matters when the agency’s integrity is in question.

The investigation started June 14 at the request of the State Highway Patrol and Harnett County District Attorney Vernon Stewart, said Anjanette Grube, an SBI spokeswoman. She said she could not say how many troopers may be involved or how long the irregularities lasted.

“Unfortunately, because it’s an ongoing investigation, there just isn’t a lot we can say, confirm or add at this point,” she said in an email to The News & Observer on Monday.

Stewart has not returned phone messages about the investigation.

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Dan Kane began working for The News & Observer in 1997. He covered local government, higher education and the state legislature before joining the investigative team in 2009.