Winterville police chief responds to complaint about officer’s conduct

Winterville police chief responds to complaint about officer conduct
Published: Aug. 24, 2022 at 8:05 PM EDT
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WINTERVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - A confrontation between a group of Winterville police officers and a man in front of his own home led to viral Facebook posts from the police department and the man’s mother.

“I don’t answer questions,” Winterville resident Braxton Pettyjohn, 20, responded to Winterville police officers approaching his car inside the Preston Trails neighborhood at roughly 1 a.m. Tuesday.

Pettyjohn says he was headed home from work when an officer, who can be seen on dash camera footage in an unmarked car, entered his neighborhood.

The 20-year-old man says he did a U-turn in a cul-de-sac and parked in front of his home when he was approached by three officers over a period of time. He says he didn’t answer questions about what he was doing.

“I know it’s my constitutional right to remain silent,” Pettyjohn said.

Later, video shows Pettyjohn asking for the badge number of one of the officers, who responded that he does not answer questions.

“You’re supposed to answer that question... you’re a public servant,” Pettyjohn said before asking for the officer’s badge number again. “I wonder how the DA is going to like this.”

Eventually, the officers identified Pettyjohn and left.

However, later that day, Pettyjohn’s mother, Ora Lee Pettyjohn, tells WITN she stopped by the police station for answers, and also took to Facebook and claimed her son had been taunted by the officers.

“I could not stop crying because in my mind, if this had not happened outside of my home, what could the outcome have been?” Ora Lee Pettyjohn asked.

After her post gained traction, the Winterville Police Department posted its side of the story and opened up a discussion on how to communicate with police in certain situations.

WITN sat down with Police Chief Ryan Willhite to talk about the situation. He said he would not do an on-camera interview, but told WITN, unlike other Winterville neighborhoods, Preston Trails has had break-ins between the hours of 1 and 4 a.m.

Winterville Police, Fire, & EMS
Winterville Police, Fire, & EMS(Justin Lundy/WITN)

In this situation, Braxton Pettyjohn turned around in two cul-de-sac’s and did not park and exit from his house.

An officer exited their car to ask questions and the officer did not know Pettyjohn lived at the house he was parked in front of until they ran his identification.

When WITN asked the chief if he thought the officer’s behavior on video was appropriate, he admitted it was not and said the officer was obviously frustrated with the way the interaction was going.

WITN also asked Willhite if it was appropriate to post on Facebook about how to communicate with police.

He said sometimes we all, as human beings, become frustrated with what we’re dealing with, and that was his mechanism yesterday to express some frustration.

The chief added that if anything helpful came from the post, it is that it started a dialogue that could be helpful for the community.

An internal investigation is underway.

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