Opinion

More accusations of tainted justice

A society of laws requires a justice system that works equitably and with integrity. Once again, the judicial district in the counties east of Charlotte is accused of failing in that duty.

This time, a former Stanly County sheriff has joined a former jail inmate in accusing prosecutors and former deputies of retaliating because the inmate sued challenging his arrest and treatment.

Former Sheriff Tony Frick made the accusations in interviews with the Observer and an affidavit.

An article in Sunday's Observer by Steve Harrison told how Theodore Williams was arrested in Albemarle in 2003 and charged with breaking into vending machines. He claimed innocence, and while in jail began filing lawsuits. Shortly after, the district attorney's office for Stanly County charged him with more felonies, such as trying to smuggle marijuana to the jail and intimidating a witness.

To be sure, Mr. Williams has a lengthy criminal record and a habit of filing lawsuits. It's easy to see how officials could find him annoying. Yet even annoying people need fair treatment, and it appears Mr. Williams didn't get it. Consider:

A month after Mr. Williams sued assistant district attorney Nicholas Vlahos, Stanly jailers drove him to Union County. (The reasons are disputed.) Union deputies say he was disruptive and they had to use force to restrain him. They charged him with felony assault. Mr. Williams says deputies deliberately beat him. He suffered a fractured arm, cuts and bruising.

A poster with two photos of Mr. Williams then appeared at Mr. Vlahos' office. One had his booking photo and a caption “Before He Sued the DA's office.” The other showed him after the injuries and said “After He Sued the DA's office.”

In two different cases against Mr. Williams, evidence that might have helped his defense was missing, including the poster and the photos, which were destroyed.

A Stanly County deputy who told Mr. Williams about the poster and told another deputy he should “tell the truth” in the marijuana case was charged with intimidating a witness. (That felony charge was dismissed last month.)

In early 2007 a judge dismissed the charges against Mr. Williams in the Union case, and in May he was acquitted on the original 2003 vending machine charge.

If this were the first accusation of improper prosecutorial behavior in the judicial district covering Stanly, Anson and Richmond (and Union, until 2007) it would be bad enough. It isn't.

In 2005, the N.C. State Bar found evidence former District Attorney Ken Honeycutt and former assistant Scott Brewer obstructed justice and suborned perjury in a capital murder case, although they weren't punished.

Michael Parker, now the DA for Stanly, Anson and Richmond counties, has faced criticism on this page for his handling of several cases. Most notable was that of Floyd Brown, a mentally disabled Anson man held without trial for 14 years despite missing evidence and allegations of a faked confession and missing evidence. Last fall, a judge in Durham County ordered Mr. Brown freed.

Citizens of Anson, Stanly and Richmond counties should demand that the N.C. State Bar thoroughly investigate Mr. Williams' case. They should also demand that justice in their counties be just that: just. For now, they can't trust that it is.

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