Pubdate: Fri, 29 Jan 2010
Source: Daily Reflector (Greenville, NC)
Copyright: 2010 Daily Reflector
Author: Michael Abramowitz


The trial and conviction of a former Pitt County sheriff's deputy this
week shed light on how a drug investigation turned into an internal
probe at the sheriff's office.

Former Lt. Michelle Pollard, 40, was sentenced in Pitt County Superior
Court to six to eight months in prison after being found guilty of
obstruction of justice and willful failure to discharge her duties.
The following timeline outlines events in order as presented by
courtroom testimony. August 2005 The prosecution's chief witness
against Pollard, Gina Wooten, bears a child with sheriff's deputy
Shannon Stewart. Their relationship is short-lived, but they remain
connected through the child.

Early 2009 Wooten enters a relationship with David Nobles, meets his
best friend, Richard Huggins, and begins to smoke marijuana and
occasionally use cocaine. April 15, 2009 Huggins, who is a
confidential informant for the Pitt County Sheriff's Office narcotics
unit, tells his handlers that Wooten will be delivering marijuana.
Wooten is stopped with marijuana in her truck by narcotics officer
Mike Stroud but is not arrested.

Stewart is informed of the incident by his chief, John Guard. April
21, 2009 Stewart, seeking an attorney to gain child custody from
Wooten, asks advice from his supervisor, Lt. Michelle Pollard, and
also tells her about the marijuana stop. Pollard tells him she will
find investigation information in the computer, but data is not logged
into the system at the time. Wooten accepts $200 from Huggins and, at
his request, purchases cocaine from a woman named "Crystal," then
delivers the drugs to Huggins at his workplace. The buy is part of an
attempt by narcotics officers to identify cocaine sources.

The transaction is observed and recorded by detectives and entered
into a classified, limited-access internal computer file at the
sheriff's office. April 22, 2009 Pollard finds information about the
cocaine transaction in the computer and calls Wooten to warn her to
cease drug activities. Wooten can't talk. Pollard asks her to call

Wooten calls Stroud, the deputy who caught her with marijuana, tells
him about Pollard and asks him why she called. Stroud instructs Wooten
to call Pollard and find out what she wants.

Wooten calls Pollard. Pollard tells her to stop drug activities and
shares details from computer report. Pollard tells her not to tell
anyone they spoke. Wooten tells Pollard she already talked to Stroud.
Pollard tells Wooten to tell Stroud it was just "girl talk." Stewart
goes to Pollard again. Pollard shows him information about the cocaine
transaction in the classified computer file. Stewart insists they must
not interfere in that investigation and argues with Pollard, who wants
to warn Wooten. Stewart alerts their supervisor, Guard, that Pollard
urged him to warn Wooten.

Huggins calls Wooten to arrange another cocaine transaction as part of
the narcotics investigation. Wooten refuses to participate. Stewart
tells Guard that he thinks Pollard will tell Wooten. Guard checks the
computer and finds the records are gone. Later testimony from Det.
Vance Head, who is leading the drug investigation, reveals he ordered
the file shut down when Wooten changed her behavior, making him
suspicious that she was tipped off.

April 23, 2009 Stewart tells Pollard he spoke with Guard and advises
Pollard to tell the truth about accessing the file if asked. Sheriff
Mac Manning already had asked her about the file. She denies accessing

May 1, 2009 Huggins asks Wooten to make another transaction for him,
but Wooten won't discuss anything with him and backs away from
interactions with Huggins. May 15, 2009 Pollard calls Wooten several
times. She fabricates stories for her about the purpose of their phone
conversations. Pollard tells Wooten to say they exchanged numbers at
Wal-Mart. She later changes that location to McDonald's after Stewart
tells Wooten that Wal-Mart surveillance video will be reviewed. Wooten
tells Pollard she is getting confused about the stories. June 2009
(unspecified dates) Wooten is interviewed by Detective Head, who
questions Wooten's phone calls with Pollard. First, Wooten tries to
tell the detective the fabricated stories Pollard instructed her to
use, then confesses to her true conversations with Pollard and agrees
to cooperate with their investigation. State Bureau of Investigation
agent Randy Myers is informed of the situation and begins a probe.

July 2, 2009 Pollard is indicted by a grand jury for obstruction of
justice and willful failure to discharge duties.

Jan. 25-27 Pollard is tried on charges.

Pollard holds her composure throughout her three days of the trial
process. When she hears the jury's verdict -- guilty of obstruction of
justice and willful failure to discharge her duties -- she does not
show emotion. She shows no emotion when Judge William Pittman
sentences her to the maximum sentence -- six to eight months -- because
she violated the public's trust in law enforcement. Then she learns
that, rather than being allowed to remain free on bond during her
appeal process, she will begin her sentence immediately, and watches
the handcuffs placed on her wrists. Her mouth quivers, her eyes well,
and the tears fall. She looks at her attorney, follows the orders of
the court bailiff and is escorted out of the courtroom to additional
processing and a van that will take her to Central Prison in Raleigh.
Her law enforcement officer's certification also is revoked. Pittman
asked Pollard, before he passed down his sentence, if she had any
comment to offer.

"I didn't intend to impede any investigation," she said. "I had no
idea there was an investigation, and I never read the actual report."
During the two days leading up to that statement, Pitt County District
Attorney Clark Everett called seven witnesses whose testimony
supported the charges and other evidence he presented, including
documented phone records, computerized investigative files and an
account of each person's role in the investigation. Each witness
account was corroborated by other witnesses. Pollard's attorney,
Maynard Harrel of Plymouth, did not call a witness on behalf of his
client, including Pollard, who several times during the trial shook
her head at others' testimony. He presented no evidence to contradict
Everett's account of the events.

Harrell's only exculpatory statement in his closing address was that
Everett's chief witness, Wooten, herself a former sheriff's employee,
could not be believed because she was an "interested witness" who had
much to gain by cooperating with the prosecution.

Harrell made a final plea to any juror who might have a reasonable
doubt of Pollard's guilt not to be swayed by those who would convict
her, even if he or she stood alone. It took the jury 90 minutes to
render its unanimous verdict. 
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