Salisbury settles lawsuits involving police

  • Posted: Saturday, March 16, 2013 12:22 a.m.
Kareem Puranda
Kareem Puranda

SALISBURY — The city of Salisbury is settling lawsuits brought by residents who say current and former police officers violated their rights and used excessive force.

Meanwhile, one of those officers faces an April trial in federal court.

In October, Robin Otto Worth accepted a $40,000 settlement from the city and dismissed complaints against Salisbury Police Sgt. Mark Hunter and former officer Kareem Puranda, according to documents filed in Rowan County civil court.

The complaint said that after a June 2009 traffic stop involving Hunter and Puranda, Worth left the scene and officers came after him. It said Puranda struck Worth in the head with his pistol, punched and kicked him, and used pepper spray and a Taser on him.

In November, the city paid Felicia Gibson $25,000 to settle her claim that Hunter violated her civil rights in 2009 when he ordered her to stop shooting video of a traffic stop and vehicle search and go inside her West Fisher Street home. Hunter then went into Gibson’s home and arrested her.

Rowan District Court Judge Beth Dixon convicted Gibson of resisting an officer in 2010, saying she had interfered with Hunter’s ability to do his job. That conviction was erased in January in superior court.

“After a thorough review of the evidence and relevant case law and after considering the circumstances surrounding the civil settlement between the Salisbury Police Department and the Defendant, the State is dismissing this charge in the interests of justice,” a dismissal notice signed by prosecutor Seth Banks said.

In both cases, the city paid a deductible and the bulk of the settlement was paid by its insurance carrier, the N.C. League of Municipalities, Salisbury spokeswoman Elaney Hasselmann said.

Worth and Gibson had joined brothers Michael Fox and John Fox in a lawsuit against the city, the officers and current and former police chiefs. A judge split the lawsuits and ordered mediation.

The complaint involving the Fox brothers stems from a 2009 fight at the former La Bamba nightclub on Klumac Road. The suit said Puranda and Hunter assaulted Michael Fox after he was handcuffed and that John Fox was assaulted when he came to his brother’s aid.

The brothers were charged, but their charges were dismissed.

A judge has ordered mediation between the Fox brothers and the city, with an Aug. 12 deadline for reaching a settlement. Their complaints against Hunter and Puranda have been dismissed.

The city settled an earlier lawsuit involving Puranda in 2011 by paying Wayne Partee of Salisbury $60,000. Partee had also claimed Puranda used excessive force.

In a September hearing, the attorney representing Worth, Gibson and the Fox brothers introduced a Salisbury Police Department memo in which an internal affairs officers warned that Puranda was a liability concern. The attorney also said the city had received a “series of citizen complaints” about Puranda and Hunter.

Puranda charges

According to documents filed in U.S. District Court, Puranda is scheduled to go trial in early April on charges of violating two victims’ constitutional rights by using excessive force. A federal grand jury indicted the former officer in December. Both incidents are alleged to have occurred in 2009.

One of the alleged victims is Robin Otto Worth.

Puranda left the Salisbury Police Department in 2010 amid an SBI investigation.

The Post contacted Police Chief Rory Collins to a request for comment on the status of the investigation and the upcoming trial. Hasselmann, the city’s spokeswoman, responded.

“Given that Mr. Puranda’s case is still in process and was an investigation conducted by an outside agency, the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), we are unable to comment on this matter,” she wrote in an email.

In early 2012, federal prosecutors filed a bill of information outlining the charge against Puranda involving Worth. That was dismissed after the grand jury indicted the former officer on the two counts, the second occurring in June 2009 and involving a victim identified by the initials “E.W.W.”

Puranda has pleaded not guilty to both charges. The case was scheduled for trial in February, but a federal judge continued the matter while defense attorneys go through nearly 5,600 pages and several hours of video collected by prosecutors.

The documents cover Puranda’s career as a police officer from 2004 to 2009, according to court filings. And they could include other acts which prosecutors plan to use as evidence against Puranda, the filings say.

No contact information could be found for Puranda. According to filings with the N.C. Secretary of State’s office, he established a nonprofit based at his Charlotte home in August. Called Achieving Success on Purpose, the organization works with disadvantaged youth, Puranda’s LinkedIn page says.

Among the interests Puranda lists on his LinkedIn page is “building community trust for law enforcement.”

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