It’s no secret that Chief Resident Superior Court Judge Jerry Tillett has been involved in a lengthy imbroglio with the Kill Devil Hills Police Department. It’s been quite the donnybrook.
And while the whole sordid mess sounds embarrassingly like an overripe Martin Scorsese film, unfortunately for residents of the 1st Judicial District, the drama is all-too real. My initial impression was that the situation amounted to little more than an example of runaway ego by Tillett.
Apparently, grounds to believe that a climate of fear and intimidation within the KDH police department did indeed exist prior to the Tillett v. KDH clash. Too bad the latter consumed all of the oxygen. People who work within the department, I am advised, have long been fearful of their work environment. I could learn little else because KDH employees are not talking — at least not to avuncular types like me.
As you may be aware, the spark which ignited this powder keg took place in KDH on April 14, 2010. Judge Tillett’s son and two friends were standing next to a car in a public access area at about 9:30 p.m. when K-9 deputy Derwood Twiddy confronted them. A drug-sniffing dog was deployed and a tug-of-war over young Tillett’s use of a cell phone for purposes of contacting his father developed. A video of the incident culled from Twiddy’s cruiser reveals that neither party distinguished themselves behaviorally.
What I have not been able to determine (and I’ve tried) is why young Tillett and company were singled out in the first place. I can uncover no probable cause and no arrest was made. Tillett the elder may have been correct in his concern about police behavior, although one cannot help but wonder about his timing.
These facts, coupled with complaints which had surfaced from within the KDH Police Department were sufficient to raise flags, especially for a sitting judge.
It’s what took place afterward that has cast dark suspicions over Tillett’s motives.
Within a fortnight of the initial unpleasantness, KDH Police Chief Gary Britt, Assistant Chief Dana Harris and KDH Town Manager Debbie Diaz were summoned to Tillett’s version of the woodshed (his office). In a sworn affidavit, all three town officials later cited a mind-boggling litany of inappropriate remarks from Tillett.
According to them, Tillett told them that “He makes the law in this district … and that he had the power to have town officials removed from their jobs.” Tillett went on to accuse the KDH Police Department of “lying on the stand” and “departmental corruption,” although he declined to provide specifics.
Tillett eventually told the three administrators that his son’s interrogation was “unconstitutional” and “a test case.”
Perhaps... but was it a wise choice, considering Tillett’s involvement? Asked if he wished to view the tape, Tillett allegedly said “What for? I know it’s been doctored.” That’s a hell of an accusation. Proof would facilitate legitimacy. He offered none.
The most shocking statement from Tillett was when he informed the three KDH officials that police officers had no latitude in interpreting the law.
How can any police officer function otherwise? Analysis and understanding of the law is as much a part of their job as enforcement.
Astoundingly, Tillett, according to the affidavits, remarked that “If a judge said the law is that someone had to stand on their head – then that person would have to stand on their head – no matter how crazy it was.”
I sincerely hope that I am never faced with that particular judicial fiat. I’d get life.
If Judge Tillett had concerns about the KDH Police Department, he had ample opportunity to pursue them through legitimate venues. The SBI, the state Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Attorney are prime examples. They all have extensive investigative powers.
Instead, Tillett initiated a personal war against the KDH hierarchy and has attempted to establish dominion ever since – with absolutely no precedence and little jurisdiction.
This is an outrageous abuse of judicial power and should be ended as swiftly as possible.
The legal maneuvering which has taken place since all this erupted has so far involved a fellow Superior Court judge, the N.C. Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court. One hates to ponder the funds that this is siphoning from an already spartan state budget, much less the time taken from legitimate court business.
Judge Tillett should be required to stand before the same Supreme Court which is presently adjudicating his private war against KDH.
If judged and found wanting he should be fired – for cause.
Bud Wright is a published author and resident of Pasquotank County