Police chief: Hunter’s legacy will live on
By Nathan Hardin
SALISBURY — On any given day, store patrons at McLaughlin’s Grocery could see Salisbury Police Sgt. Mark Hunter wading through the cramped aisles to buy an empty-pocketed kid a snack.
“Get yourself one, boy,” Hunter would bellow, Shirley McLaughlin recalled Thursday.
“Kids would come in and they would want things and wouldn’t have enough money,” said McLaughlin, whose brother John owns the store. “He would buy things for them.”
But the smiles were few and far between Thursday as Shirley and John McLaughlin and others talked about of the longtime officer.
Hunter died suddenly of an apparent heart attack Thursday morning. He was 51.
Police Chief Rory Collins said Hunter’s sudden passing stunned the department, but Hunter leaves a legacy of love for law enforcement and the community.
“He was somebody who always worked exceptionally hard and did everything he could to represent the police department and the profession that we’re in as best he could, and he always gave it his best,” Collins said.
The McLaughlins, whose store is on Monroe Street near Livingstone College, painted a similar picture of the sometimes-polarizing officer — hailed by some as the model of law enforcement, while critics sometimes claimed he crossed the line and violated citizens’ civil rights.
“He did his job,” McLaughlin said. “He really respected his job. He improved this community so much here.”
Full career, full life
In his 20 years on the force, Hunter worked his way up from patrol officer to drug investigator and most recently as a patrol sergeant.
A U.S. Army veteran, Hunter leaves behind a wife, five children and five grandchildren.
Those who knew him best say that’s what mattered most to Hunter.
“That was his life,” Capt. Shelia Lingle said, “and he loved his grandkids.”
Lingle said Hunter was close with many officers’ families. He had photos of her family on his desk.
“Everybody’s got a very heavy heart here today,” she said Thursday. “We’ve lost a brother here today.”
Capt. Melonie Thompson partnered with Hunter when she first joined the force in 1993.
“My whole career has been with him. We rode together. We were on the SAFE team together when it first started,” Thompson said. “I think the biggest thing about him was his love for the community and his love for children. Little kids would run up to him and want to hug him. He just really loved children in the neighborhoods.”
Thompson said Hunter had a passion for law enforcement that made him a “pro-active” cop.
“He just wanted to see good change come about. He was very fair. He treated everyone the same,” Thompson said. “When crime would go up in the neighborhood, he was the first one there in the neighborhood.”
But Hunter had his critics, too.
He was accused of violating Felicia Gibson’s civil rights by arresting her as she was videoing a traffic stop from her property. He and former Officer Kareem Puranda were accused of assaulting Robin Otto Worth during a traffic stop. Brothers Michael Fox and John Fox said they were assaulted by police during a fight at a Salisbury nightclub.
The city agreed to monetary settlements with Worth, Gibson and the Foxes last month. Hunter was expected to testify soon in Puranda’s federal trial on charges of using excessive force. The trial begins Monday.
For some residents of the West End, though, Hunter’s passing Thursday felt like the death of a close relative.
“It’s a solemn day here — especially in this store,” McLaughlin said.
Resident and friend Anthony Jordan said Hunter’s death will be felt throughout the community he worked so hard to clean up.
“Losing Mark is like losing a brother,” Jordan said.
John McLaughlin said he immediately saw dividends to Hunter’s police work when the officer began patrolling the area.
“My business picked up 40 percent after he cleaned up this community,” McLaughlin said, noting that a lot of the store’s business comes from foot traffic. He wondered aloud who would keep the neighborhood clean.
Hunter “was the only one that would stick his nose out and do something for his community,” McLaughlin said.
Officer Neal Brown, who worked with Hunter for about 9 years, said the burly officer was a dedicated cop with a tender side most never saw.
“Hunter always presented a command presence,” he said. “An authority figure, for sure. Then again, like I said, he loved to laugh and joke and play around just like the rest of us.”
Friends sometimes called Hunter “Big Train.” When asked about the nickname in 2001 as he trained for a national shooting competition, Hunter said it stuck because he’s “big, black and move just like a locomotive.”
Others spoke of Hunter’s professionalism and dedication to the residents he kept watch over.
Friend DeeDee Wright said Hunter would personally check her home when she was away. He made a habit of sticking a card in the door each time he stopped by the property.
“I always called him when I was going out of town,” she said. “If I was gone five days, there were five cards.”
Wright said she’s known Hunter for nearly 20 years. In that time, she’s come to appreciate his value of family and his love for Salisbury.
“The community lost one that they knew they could call on. They knew he would be responsive,” Wright said. “He was a policeman’s policeman.”
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.