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Wake County ADA Resigns, Charged with Impersonating an Officer

A Wake County Assistant District Attorney resigned today shortly before being charged with impersonating an officer. I will not name the ADA, whom I’ve always found to be polite and professional. I do not know the facts of the case as well as District Attorney Mike Waters who was asked by Wake DA Lorrin Freeman to review the matter after she properly recused herself given the conflict of investigating her own employee.

The resignation was appropriate. A person cannot stay in that position after behaving in that way.

However, I am not necessarily of the opinion that everyone should be charged even if they have committed a criminal offense. While it is a criminal offense to impersonate a police officer, assistant district attorneys are actually technically law enforcement officers. It is unprofessional at the very least an Assistant District Attorney to show up and pretend to be a narcotics officer, if in fact that’s what occurred.

But it may not have been criminal.

The former ADA has hired good defense lawyers, and so I expect that all of those issues will be resolved appropriately and hopefully without more trauma to him.

What led him to appear at a door in such an odd and questionable matter is not for me to publicly speculate. However, the appropriate response may be a non-trial deferral. But Mr. Waters is a fine prosecutor and I expect he or his office will address this matter.

Larger Questions Remain

The WRAL article lacks a lot of details. I have always considered Lorrin Freeman to be a good person and personally professional, and so when she says she immediately referred to matter to District Attorney Waters upon learning about it from Raleigh Police Department, I can only assume that was Tuesday, January 2.

When was the matter referred?

Freeman and Waters made statements on Monday, February 8, more than a month after the event, and after rumors ran rampant through the courthouse, and ONLY after the media started inquiring.

This was Wake County District Attorney Freeman’s statement today:

It is crucial that the community trust our office’s ability to use sound judgment in making decisions. We have a responsibility to maintain the public confidence, which requires that there is no hint of abuse of our authority and that we do our best to live above reproach. I appreciate District Attorney Waters’ careful review of this matter.

Certainly, it would’ve been inappropriate for Ms. Freeman to reveal personal identifying information about the ADA or the underlying conditions that gave rise to the conduct, but a statement about the misconduct and the investigation that protected his identity, but – IMPORTANTLY – lived up to the important goal of using “sound judgment” to maintain “public confidence” should have been released sometime within the 36 days between RPD responding to the incident and the media knocking on the District Attorney’s door.

When was the suspension imposed?

The WRAL story does not provide any dates. But some clarity about when the suspension was imposed would be important for the citizens of Wake County to know how diligent the response was from their elected District Attorney.

How long has the problem existed and were there earlier signs of difficulty?

Being a lawyer is a stressful job. For prosecutors, the stress is even more heightened. And, sadly, we as a state do not pay prosecutors nearly enough nor provide them with the kind of health insurance that enables them to get help, when that help costs money.

In short, assistant district attorneys, assistant public defenders, and, for that matter, police and public servants across the board are paid little and asked to do too much.

Lawyers have some of the highest rates of alcohol abuse and mental health issues. While I have absolutely no confirmation (and would not publicly air those issues anyway) whether those were factors in this case, I do know from being a lawyer how the practice of law can take a personal toll. I have personally found therapy to be a valuable and important tool for my clients, other lawyers, and myself. Other people prefer talking to a pastor, minister or priest.

But – and here’s the point – a good manager – a good leader – helps to respond to these issues that she sees among her employees for their welfare and for the public whose safety is her trust. A good leader ensures that the environment in the office is conducive to allow employees to report their own difficulties, and to seek help, where it’s needed.

If this was not the first incident, and if there was a pattern, why was a young man not helped earlier in the process, to avoid an incident that led to public humiliation and a criminal charge.

What about the victims?

Since WRAL does not say whether it interviewed the victims of the crime, we don’t know whether there were previous incidents. How did they know that the person with a gun on his hip standing at their door was not in fact a narcotics officer? Were they advised or requested to keep the story quiet? If so, why?

The Cover-Up Worse than the Crime

The old adage, the cover-up is worse than the crime, is always true. In fact, quick and early mentoring may have meant there was no crime, and that a smart young man who obviously loved his job as a prosecutor could stay in that position. As it is, the failure to properly manage an office contributed to where he is today.

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