A former Moore County sheriff’s deputy fired in 2018 after being accused of lying to state investigators says he feels “complete vindication” after regaining his law enforcement certification.
Nearly two years ago, Moore County District Attorney Maureen Krueger informed then-Sheriff Neil Godfrey that she would no longer be able to use Tracy Carter as a witness in criminal cases, citing alleged “instances of untruthfulness.”
Those instances stem from an SBI investigation involving Godfrey’s son, Brent, a former sheriff’s deputy, in February 2016.
The decision of a prosecutor to rule out a law enforcement officer as a witness is known as a “Giglio” impairment, a name that comes from a prior legal case. Officers like Carter say such a determination is like a “death sentence” because it “effectively ends your career.”
“It deems you untrustworthy and no longer credible,” Carter said in an interview with The Pilot. “I was branded a liar. To end my career like this, it is like a dishonorable discharge in the military.”
Carter applied for a position as a part-time deputy with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department last May and was hired on a provisional basis. To make the hire permanent, he had to get his record cleared up.
“The mark is still there,” he said. “It follows you. There will always be people who believe it.”
Clearing his professional reputation meant Carter had to make a case to the Probable Cause Committee in the Sheriff’s Standards Commission of the N.C. Department of Justice to regain certification. He did that last fall.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Carter said. “I told the complete truth to the SBI. I decided to go through this process because I wanted to clear my name. I did not know much about the process. But I felt like I had to try.”
‘No Probable Cause’
While this was not a public process, Carter disclosed the workings of his case. He provided The Pilot with copies of his sworn statement and other documents given to the committee.
Five North Carolina sheriffs make up the committee. They meet quarterly to review cases where an officer’s eligibility is in jeopardy, said Laura Brewer, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Justice. The panel’s deliberations and findings are not a public record, she said.
Meetings are attended only by the committee members, the division’s staff and attorneys, along with the applicant and their representative, Brewer said in an email to The Pilot. Krueger was not a part of the process and was not notified of the proceeding.
The Sheriff’s Standards Division provided a brief letter sent to Montgomery County Sheriff Chris Watkins a few weeks after the hearing stating that the committee “found that no probable cause exists to believe” Carter was “disqualified for certification.” The letter included no other details.
In addition to going before the Probable Cause Committee in the Sheriff’s Standards Division, Carter also filed complaints against Krueger with the N.C. State Bar Grievance Committee alleging “misconduct” in the handling of this matter, as well as with the N.C. State Ethics Commission.
A. Todd Brown Sr., chairman of the State Bar Grievance Committee, informed Carter by letter last fall that the complaint was dismissed after Brown reviewed it with the vice chairman and a staff attorney.
“After careful consideration, it was determined that the evidence does not establish that the attorney’s conduct violated the Rules of Professional conduction,” Brown wrote.
The Ethics Commission also decided against taking action on Carter's complaint.
A Bitter Feud
Carter claims he was caught in the middle of a bitter feud between Krueger and Neil Godfrey, Moore County’s top two law enforcement officials until Godfrey lost a re-election bid in 2018. Carter accused Krueger of leveraging him as a political liability to hurt Godfrey, who was locked in a contentious Republican primary battle with eventual winner Ronnie Fields.
The issue involving Carter broke open shortly before that election when a copy of Krueger’s letter nullifying Carter as a future witness was anonymously leaked to The Pilot.
“She throws this out there two weeks before the primary election to put the final nail in Neil Godfrey’s coffin at my expense,” Carter said.
Krueger said she could not comment on her decision to issue the “Giglio” determination against Carter, but she vehemently denied in a statement to The Pilot that her actions were politically motivated.
“I swore an oath to uphold, maintain and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of North Carolina,” the statement said. “The oath applies even in situations which might not be politically popular. I acted upon my constitutional duty.
“I requested the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation to investigate and the North Carolina Attorney General Office to prosecute. As a result, the deputy (Brent Godfrey) was charged and convicted.”
At the center of the feud is a Feb. 29, 2016, incident involving Brent Godfrey, who was a Moore County road-patrol deputy at the time. That evening, sheriff’s officials were called to FirstHealth Memorial Hospital in Pinehurst to investigate reports that the younger Godfrey had driven his patrol vehicle to the hospital while intoxicated. He resigned the next day.
Court documents list Carter among the deputies who were in the hospital parking lot on the evening of the incident.
Following an investigation, the SBI almost a year later charged Brent Godfrey with two misdemeanors. He eventually pleaded guilty to operating a patrol vehicle after consuming alcohol and surrendered his law enforcement certification and paid a small fine.
On March 15, 2016, the District Attorney’s Office requested the SBI investigate the Sheriff’s Office. The nature of those complaints and the SBI findings have never been revealed publicly. No one other than Brent Godfrey was charged.
Krueger’s letter almost two years after the SBI investigation accused Carter of “instances of untruthfulness” in connection with the case.
According to the letter, Krueger cited a Supreme Court ruling commonly referred to by the plaintiff’s name — Giglio — as the reason Carter would no longer be used “as a witness for the state of North Carolina in any criminal or traffic case.”
After Krueger’s letter became public before the election, Neil Godfrey wrote back saying the accusations against Carter are not supported by “any credible or ostensive information or evidence.” He accused Krueger of lying to undermine his campaign.
Fields, a former Carthage mayor and longtime law enforcement offical, defeated Godfrey in a Republican primary election. He declined to comment on this story.
About a week after the election, Neil Godfrey fired Carter after reviewing a copy of the SBI report.
“As a result of that, I took appropriate action,” Neil Godfrey told The Pilot in May 2018.
Neil Godfrey said recently that he “fully supports” the Sheriff’s Standards Commission's decision on Carter.
“Tracy had a long and distinguished career in law enforcement,” Neil Godfrey said. “I am proud of the work he did at the Sheriff’s Office. It is unfortunate that this happened in the first place. That letter she (Krueger) sent out should have never been made public.”
Neil Godfrey said he had no choice but to take the action he did in terminating Carter given Krueger’s decision, which he called “just unfortunate.” He said Krueger should issue a “public apology” to Carter and his family.
“If my office had done something like that to someone, there would be a public apology,” he said. “It’s just sad things happened the way they did.”
Carter said Krueger herself was still undecided on the matter more than a year after the incident, based on an email she wrote on May 15, 2017. The email, which was sent to Adren Harris, a special deputy attorney general in the N.C. Department of Justice, sought an opinion on whether Carter’s action rose to the level of Giglio impairment. Carter included a copy of the email in the documents he submitted to the committee.
“I am unable to render an opinion as to whether Deputy Carter falls within the guidelines of Giglio as it relates to the incident which involved former Deputy Brent Godfrey,” Harris wrote. “I believe that is a decision that should be left at your discretion. If you have not done so, you may want to read the SBI report in conjunction with watching the hospital video. I think it may assist you with your determination if whether there is impeachment evidence that would challenge the credibility of Deputy Carter.”
Caught in the Middle
Carter doesn’t dispute being in the hospital parking lot that night four years ago. He had responded earlier to an incident in Cameron involving an attempted suicide and, in a statement, details how he followed the suicidal subject's wife to the hospital.
He said in his sworn statement to the Probable Cause Committee that initially he did not suspect Brent Godfrey had been drinking before coming to the hospital, and that other deputies there shared the same observations.
Carter said he had called his supervisor to deal with Brent Godfrey since Carter was “dealing with a woman who had just wrestled a gun away from her husband who was trying to kill himself.”
“I saw no signs of impairment,” Carter said of the sheriff’s son, “but I was supposed to arrest Brent Godfrey?
It was later, Carter said in his statement, after he approached his supervisor’s patrol car and rolled down the window, that he detected a small odor of alcohol.
“Within a week or two following the incident, I heard rumors that Krueger was after Brent, Sheriff Godfrey and anyone else involved in the incident because she believed that there was a ‘cover up’ to protect Brent,” Carter said.
Carter said he was asked to meet with an SBI agent at the Sheriff’s Office that March or April.
“I was not advised that I was a target of their investigation or that I could/should have an attorney present,” he wrote in his statement to the commission. “I was not Mirandized or sworn. It appeared to be a 'casual' conversation. … His main areas of interest were phone contacts with Sheriff Godfrey and others the night of the incident and my relationship with Sheriff Godfrey and Brent.”
Carter said about two weeks later, Neil Godfrey told him he needed to meet a second time with SBI. He said Neil Godfrey told him, “don’t worry; Krueger is after me and Brent.”
The second interview also took place at the Sheriff’s Office. This time, the SBI agent who interviewed him initially was accompanied by another agent identified as his “supervisor,” Carter’s statement said.
The investigators implied Carter saw Brent Godfrey driving, but Carter insisted he was focused on the woman whose husband had tried to commit suicide.
“She was understandably extremely upset and difficult to deal with,” Carter said. “If my eyes actually saw him driving, it simply didn’t register and I was not going make the agents happy by saying something that was not true. This is not an uncommon phenomenon especially when the thing ‘seen’ was not important to you at the time. The agents asked me if I was aware of a law dealing with operating an emergency vehicle after consuming alcohol. I was not.”
After the 2016 incident, Carter continued working, including with the District Attorney’s Office, though not directly with Krueger. He noted that he shot a suspect who pointed a gun at him during a confrontation in June 2017. He and other deputies were cleared following an SBI investigation of that incident.
At the time of her letter in 2018, Krueger blamed the timing on a staff oversight, saying it had come up recently because Carter was to be a witness in an upcoming trial.
Krueger said she reviewed the SBI files regarding allegations of “failure to perform official duties and obstruction of justice” related to the investigation of Brent Godrey.
“Unfortunately, the review revealed that Sgt. Carter was untruthful during the investigation concerning his observations or interactions with Deputy Godfrey,” Krueger wrote. “I am disheartened to inform you that this ethical breach means that Moore County district attorney’s office will no longer be able to use Sgt. Carter as a witness for the state of North Carolina in any criminal case.”
Carter said he first learned about Krueger’s decision to issue the Giglio impairment from his supervisor.
“I was devastated,” he said. “I thought this was over with two years ago. I had no idea it was this coming. It was out of the blue. It just sucked the life out of me. I never had a cross word with the district attorney. There was never a question on any of my cases. It was always good.
“Through this whole process, I had no due process. She was the judge and executioner. I had no recourse. I was never Marandized or advised I was a target of any investigation. No charges were ever filed against me. No disciplinary action was taken against me. I have worked in law enforcement for a long time and worked with a lot of district attorneys.”
Carter said he ultimately filed his appeal because he was never given a chance to defend himself. He had planned to continue working in law enforcement as long as he was physically able.
“When I can’t do it anymore, I’ll hang it up and go home,” he said.
Carter said he was glad to get another job in law enforcement, though it is not quite that same since it is not in Moore County, which is his home. He was a sergeant with the Moore County Sheriff’s Office when he was fired.
“I am grateful they gave me a second chance,” Carter said of the Sheriff’s Standards Division. “It was a great surprise. I didn’t think anyone would give me a second chance.”