LUMBERTON — Robeson County’s district attorney, top law enforcement agenices and the city of Lumberton have been sued over the seizure of video poker machines in 2014.
A lawsuit was filed June 1 in Robeson County Superior Court demanding the return of 41 video poker machines seized by the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office and Lumberton police. The plaintiff seeks damages and accuses the parties involved of wrongfully retaining the video gaming machines belonging to Laurel Hill-based Norton Vending Inc. The machines were seized mainly from Sun-Do gas stations in unincorporated parts of Robeson County.
District Attorney Johnson Britt is named in the lawsuit because his office filed criminal charges related to the operation of the machines against employees of the convenience stores. No one was found guilty of a crime.
Britt said he would not comment on the case directly because it is pending litigation. He said only that the Attorney General’s office would represent him in the case, and he expected a motion to dismiss the case to be filed soon.
The lawsuit puts the value of the machines at just more than $131,000 and demands compensation for the loss of the machines in excess of $25,000. No exact monetary damages are expressed in the lawsuit, but it states that the true level of damages will be proven at trial.
Britt, Lumberton Police Chief Michael McNeill and Sheriff Ken Sealey are being sued as individuals and in their capacity as the leader of their respective agencies. Suing them as individuals allows for damages to be assessed if it can be proven that they acted outside the duties of the offices they hold. The suit alleges that they did.
“All we were doing was trying to enforce the law,” Sealey said and referred further questions to the county attorney.
The lawsuit alleges that the games have been illegally held since they were seized. An attorney for the vending machine company asked Britt to arrange for the return of the machines, but the district attorney refused and called the machines a public nuisance.
Video poker machines have been outlawed in North Carolina since 2007. Video gaming machines are defined as any video game based on or involving the random or chance matching of different pictures, words, numbers, or symbols not dependent on the skill or dexterity of the player and offering cash prizes.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly