WAGRAM — The State Bureau of Investigation is reviewing claims made by a Wagram business owner that a highway patrolman assaulted him without cause last week following a car accident on U.S. 401.
James Watts, owner of J’s Convenience Store on U.S. 401 south of Wagram, has made complaints with both the N.C. Highway Patrol and the District Attorney regarding the conduct of Trooper Craven Lynn Pridgen.
The state highway patrol is conducting an internal investigation, and District Attorney Kristy Newton said on Thursday that, following her office’s investigation, she has referred the case to the SBI.
Watts said that he was trying to be a good Samaritan following a March 4 accident a scant 100 yards from his store that left one driver seriously injured. After calling 911 and the Scotland County Sheriff’s Office, Watts said he assisted in directing traffic away from the accident at the request of an EMS worker until authorities arrived on the scene.
As he returned on foot to his store, Watts said that he was approached by Pridgen, who told him to leave the scene. Watts took offense to Pridgen’s tone and asked for the name of his supervisor, at which point Watts alleges that Pridgen became violent.
“He grabbed me, slung me around, threw his handcuffs on me, grabbed me by the back of my shirt, and slung me into the front of his Highway Patrol car,” Watts said.
Watts said that he was left handcuffed in the car for 15 minutes, after which Pridgen threatened to arrest him unless he admitted that Pridgen was in the right.
“I was real nice, I was real professional, I said do what you’ve got to do,” said Watts, who recounted that Pridgen then pulled him out of the vehicle, removed the handcuffs, and allowed Watts to return to his store.
Watts was not charged with any offense that night.
Watts said that he has known Pridgen for nearly 20 years, and conceded that he himself had a “little driving record” and a history of speeding in his late teens and early twenties. However, he feels that his experience last week violated his rights and qualifies as “police brutality.”
The morning following the incident, Watts’ wrists and neck bore red marks and bruises, which he claims were left by Pridgen’s manhandling.
“This guy used excessive force last night, did not change me with nothing, did not arrest me, but for some reason threw me in his cop car,” he said.
Watts submitted complaints, accompanied by written statements from half a dozen witnesses, to the state Highway Patrol and the District Attorney. According to Sgt. S.S. Richardson of the Hamlet N.C. Highway Patrol office, Watts’ complaint has been forwarded to the highway patrol’s internal affairs division for further investigation to avoid bias or favoritism.
Pridgen has been left in his post for the duration of the investigation, which is still in the “infancy stage,” according to a highway patrol public information officer.
“Right now there’s no change in his employment status,” said 1st Sgt. Jeff Gordon. “These are allegations until an investigation shows otherwise.”
According to records provided by Gordon, Pridgen was hired as a state trooper in November 1993, with promotions to senior trooper in 1998 and to master trooper in 2001. His most recent performance-related salary increase came on July 1, 2006. His current salary is $57,006.
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-276-2311, ext. 17. Follow her on Twitter @emkaylbg.