Seven Clinton police officers have transitioned from administrative leave to administrative duty, confined to office work sans gun and badge, as criminal and internal investigations into a shooting at Burger King over Memorial Day weekend continue.
The last officer involved in the May 29 fatal shooting of John Mark Coffey, 53, of Warsaw, was interviewed by the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) and allowed to return to the office on administrative duty Friday, Clinton Police Chief Jay Tilley confirmed on Monday.
Officers have been returning to administrative duty status over the course of the past two weeks, the police chief said.
The officers involved in the shooting, and transitioning to administrative duty status, include Lt. R.K. Dalton, Sgt. A.D. Clowney, Detective S.M. Crespo, Cpl. J.A. Kittrell, Cpl. J.A. Snell, Officer A.W. McDuffie and Officer B.N. Hall. N.C. Highway Patrol Trooper L.M. High was also initially placed on administrative leave. His status was not immediately known.
“They are confined to the office,” Tilley noted of the officers. “They can’t carry a gun and they are not allowed to be on the road. They can handle call-in reports and office work.”
He said that the officers are assisting with an accreditation process that has been ongoing. A team with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CALEA) is in town this week assessing Clinton Police Department operations. The department consists of 28 officers including Tilley, meaning that the shooting has effectively meant one-quarter of the force was gone for more than a month — and are still off the road.
“We have work here that needs to be done and this is better than them sitting at home until (the investigations) are complete,” Tilley remarked, noting the SBI’s criminal investigation and Clinton Police Department’s internal investigation are still going on and officers have not been cleared. “There still has been no disposition in either of those two investigations. No decisions have been made.”
Tilley said results of the two investigations will likely be released at the same time. He said he has not been given a timetable as to when the SBI would be concluding its probe. The SBI is doing a criminal investigation to see whether there was any criminal wrongdoing on the part of the officers, while the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit is conducting an internal investigation to gauge any policy violations.
“I expect the two will probably conclude about the same time,” the police chief said.
The SBI will turn its findings over to the District Attorney’s Office for further review and possible charges if necessary.
The probes are looking at everything that transpired when officers responded to a 911 call at Burger King on Southeast Boulevard, Clinton, just before midnight Saturday, May 28, finding Coffey sitting by himself in a white Dodge truck armed with a shotgun.
Officers attempting to negotiate with Coffey to put his weapon down, police stated in initial reports. Coffey reportedly told officers he had five rounds of ammunition and was not coming out of his vehicle. After about 20 minutes, shortly before 12:20 a.m. May 29, Coffey opened the driver’s door and pointed a weapon at the officers, who fired multiple rounds, killing him, authorities said.
EMS personnel, staged nearby, were immediately brought in as were agents with the SBI, standard procedure to assist in the investigation. Coffey was pronounced dead at the scene.
Five body cameras and four in-car video cameras were turned over to the SBI. “The systems were activated at the time of the officers’ arrival and continued recording throughout the event, to include the shooting,” Tilley has pointed out. “We have a fairly complete video package of what transpired. The body cameras and the in-car cameras captured it from several different angles.”
Tilley said the incident and subsequent investigation is “rare” for the Clinton Police Department, which has not had such a shooting in close to 50 years.
“In fairness to everybody I want to be sure all the facts are in before making comments about anything that is going on in the investigation,” the police chief said last month. “We’re working as fast as we can so that we can make a full disclosure.”
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