NC: Wake County sheriff laments probable cause requirement for pulling over motorists
RALEIGH — Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison says the constitutional protection against unjustified searches and seizures inhibits law enforcement and it would be better if police could pull over motorists without probable cause.
Harrison, a Republican seeking election to a third four-year term in November, makes his comments in a video interview on the YouTube channel of Tom Murry, a Morrisville councilman running for the state House in the 41st District, which includes parts of Raleigh, Apex, Cary and Morrisville.
In the video, Murry asks, “Is the state making it easier for you to do your job or making it more difficult?”
Harrison, a former North Carolina Highway Patrol trooper, responds, “The biggest thing I see is the way we interpret laws. Back when I was a young trooper, we could stop a car anytime we wanted to to see if they had a driver’s license. Now you can’t do it. You have to have suspicion of probable cause. So, to me, it’s sort of burden on us.”
Harrison goes on to describe a scenario in which he is a police officer in the market for a new car who sees a vehicle he likes and stops the driver to ask where he bought it.
“I walk up to car,” Harrison says, “You have not violated any law — and I’d have to testify to that in court — but I look into your back seat and there you are loaded down with marijuana, cocaine, white liquor or whatever it might be, do you think you’re going to be found guilty in court? No, because I didn’t have reason to stop you and they’ll toss it out in court. Is that right? To me, no.”
[Watch the entire interview (4:15) on Murry's YouTube channel.]
State Rep. Chris Heagarty, the Democrat being challenged by Murry, says he watched the video and was “a little bit shocked” by Harrison’s attitude toward the constitutional protection against unjustified searches and seizures.
“It goes to the Fourth Amendment, which he is sworn to uphold,” says Heagarty, who received a law degree from N.C. Central University last spring. “I understand he wants to fight crime, but you don’t do that by giving a blank check to law enforcement.”
Murry, an attorney and a pharmacist, makes no comment on the video in response to Harrison’s objections to the probable cause requirement.
In an interview Wednesday, Murry said the sheriff’s department was “doing a great job” and “If there was a probable cause issue, I think you would hear about that and we’re not.”
The issue of police stops, searches and question has became the focus of a national debate following the passage of a state law in Arizona that allowed law enforcement officers who have stopped individuals for cause to request evidence of their being in the U.S. legally. Opponents of the law say it will encourage racial profiling in police stops.
The U.S. Justice Department has sued to block the law on grounds that it usurps the federal role in enforcing immigration laws.
Pablo Escobar, a board member of El Pueblo, a statewide Hispanic advocacy group, said unjustified stops were not a problem for Hispanics. He said the problem is stops for minor traffic infractions are escalating into deportations.
Escobar said he was reassured that Harrison recognizes probable cause requirement even if he doesn’t agree with it.
“I’m glad he says these laws exist. He may not like them, but he goes by them. He’s a politician and he can express his opinions,” Escobar said.
Harrison said expressing his objections to probable cause requirements will not encourage his deputies to take the requirement lightly.
“A good leader will always express his concerns,” Harrison said in an interview with the North Carolina Independent News. “I don’t have a problem with my guys knowing how I feel as long as they abide by the law.”
Later in the video, Harrison moves to child discipline, something he says is lacking among Wake County youth. Harrison made clear that it is not illegal to spank children as, he says, many people think.
“You can still spank your child. Whether you want to or not, it’s on the books,” Harrison said. “But most people think, ‘Hey, you can’t do this.’ A lot of police officers will tell moms and dads, ‘Don’t spank your child, or I’ll put you in jail.’ And that sends a bad message. Why? Because when a kid hears that at 5, 6, 7, 8 years old, they know if they do wrong, ‘You lay a hand on me and I’m going to call the police.’ We try to get the message out, that’s not true.”
Ah, the good old days, when cops could pull you over to ask where you bought your car. And if you didn’t stop, they’d bust you for that. Barney Fife with a badge — never a good idea.
Obviously, Rep. Heagarty is grasping for straws here. Sheriff Harrison follows the law to the T and that is why he will be re-elected. Heagarty tried to paint himself as a moderate but he is a tax and spend liberal and lying to cover his true viewpoints. That is why he hires political hack Mike Radionchecko from OFA to run his campaign.
Probable Cause is a necessity to combat personal opinion within law enforcement. It might stop you from pulling someone over, but it doesn’t stop the police from running the plate number.
“Obviously, Rep. Heagarty is grasping for straws here. Sheriff Harrison follows the law to the T and that is why he will be re-elected. Heagarty tried to paint himself as a moderate but he is a tax and spend liberal and lying to cover his true viewpoints. That is why he hires political hack Mike Radionchecko from OFA to run his campaign.”
You sound like an irredeemable idiot with a questionable grasp of your own shoelaces, never mind governance.