A state highway patrol trooper and his fiancée have been accused of assaulting two Black teenagers, holding one at gunpoint while the other was bashed in the back of the head with a police-issued walkie talkie, according to a complaint filed against the NC Department of Safety. 

Two Raleigh attorneys filed the complaint last week. It accuses NC State Highway Patrol trooper Sgt. Sean Luther Bridges and Leann Weber, who are white, of assaulting the teens while they were visiting a home their mother had under contract for purchase in Wendell.

On September 10, just after 6:00 p.m., the teens left their father’s house on Old Johnson Road to visit their future home at 157 Terracotta Way, which was still under construction. The attorneys say Bridges, a resident of the neighborhood, was not in uniform and did not identify himself as a law enforcement officer when he prevented Xavier Atkinson, then 14, from leaving the premises.

The attorneys say Bridges also threw Xavier’s 19-year-old sister, Mahogany, in a ditch, handcuffed her, and held her at gunpoint when she tried to intervene. Weber, Bridges’ fiancée, bashed Xavier Atkinson in the back of the head with Bridges’ police-issued walkie talkie, according to the complaint.

The teens’ mother, Beth Harris, is a mental health nurse at the UNC Health Care Addiction Treatment Center at WakeBrook in Raleigh. She is “200 percent sure” racism fueled Bridges’ behavior and said her children would not have been subjected to that type of mistreatment if they were white.

“Never, never,” she told the INDY. “They thought because they were African American children that they were in the house stealing. The Johnston County Sheriff’s Office even went over to their aunt’s house and searched the home to see if they had stolen something.”

The Johnston County deputies did not find any stolen items, but in the sometimes-illogical world of law enforcement reasoning, the Atkinson children were still threatened with charges of assault on a law enforcement official.

In an 18-page claim for damages filed July 23, Raleigh attorneys Donald Huggins and James Hairston assert that the state department of public safety deployed an African American Highway Patrol trooper, First Sgt. D.L. Mobley, to empathize with Harris “as a fellow African American.” Mobley told Harris that he did not want to see Mahogany charged, because he knew how a criminal record could hinder a young Black woman.

Huggins and Hairston say Mobley might have identified with Harris, but they also think his actual intent was to cover up the incident. In essence, Mobley dangled a quid pro quo before Harris, said Huggins and Hairston. If the teen’s mother “dropped the issue against Bridges’ wife, then Mahogany Atkinson and Xavier Atkinson would not be [criminally] charged,” the claim says.

Two days after the confrontation, on September 12, Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle reviewed the incident and sent an email to Mobley that recommended criminal charges against the Atkinson siblings, but not against Bridges or Weber.

“Sergeant Bridges,” Doyle wrote in the email, “did not commit any crimes.”

On September 17, Mobley came to Harris’s workplace to ask her to drop a potential civil lawsuit against Bridges’ fiancée in exchange for the dismissal of criminal charges that were pending against her children.

“[Mobley] called me at work and said he didn’t want to talk with me over the phone, he wanted to talk face-to-face,” Harris says. “That’s what prompted me to record what he needed to tell me, to save my kids.”

Whatever Mobley’s intentions were, what he proposed to Harris on September 17 appeared to be an attempt to blackmail her.

On Harris’s audio recording, Mobley can be heard telling her that Bridges’ concern for his fiancée was behind the offer. The mental health nurse told Mobley that Bridges should be tested for drugs after his encounter with her children.

“He was high. Something was wrong with him,” Harris later told the INDY. “I have been a substance abuse nurse for 10 years. I know high when I see it. My daughter said the same thing. ‘His eyes were glassy, Mommy.’”

On the recording, Mobley told Harris that Bridges had tested negative for alcohol, but he was not tested for drugs, though state troopers are subjected to random drug tests.

Mobley told Harris that if she could “see it in her heart to not go after [Bridges’ fiancée], then these charges [against her children] will not be filed.”

“Bottom line, we got to make these charges go away, because in my heart it won’t right,” Mobley later added.

Harris told Mobley she had canceled the contract for the home. “My children are traumatized,” she said. “And it’s not fair for them to be scared when they walk out their door. We’ve already been branded.”

Mobley, after speaking with Harris, decided not to charge the children, Hairston told the INDY last week. But many unanswered questions remain.

According to the claim, which paints a vivid picture of the incident, the trooper’s encounter with the Atkinsons began with an angry and profane command instead of a simple introduction. Harris says it’s yet another example of the systemic police brutishness that sparked global outrage with the murder of George Floyd on Memorial Day.

As outlined in the claim, the teens used an all-terrain vehicle to visit the house, which the sales contract allowed them to do. They parked the ATV in front of the home and stayed inside for less than 10 minutes. Upon leaving, they were approached by Bridges, a “tall, muscular, Caucasian man with tattoos wearing shorts and a T-shirt,” who immediately began to yell at them.

When Xavier started the ATV, Bridges yelled, “Don’t crank that loud shit up!” Not sure what Bridges had said, Xavier shut off the ATV and asked his sister if she had heard. That’s when Mahogany asked Bridges, “What did you say?”

Bridges continued to walk toward the Atkinsons and told them again, “Don’t cut that loud shit on.”

Mahogany told Bridges, “You could have said that better. We are only trying to see our house. Do you know where we are? We are in the country. I have been riding this area for years, and this is our home.”

“This is not your house,” Bridges angrily stated, still approaching. The teen grew fearful and asked her brother to go get their mother. When Xavier mounted the ATV and started it, Bridges stepped in front of the vehicle and attempted to grab the handlebars. “Visibly angry,” he commanded Xavier to turn the ATV off. Xavier says he did, though Bridges later “wrongfully asserted” that the teen tried to hit him with the vehicle, according to the complaint.

Mahogany stepped between Bridges and her brother.

“Bridges grabbed Mahogany Atkinson by her wrists and slung her into a nearby ditch,” the attorneys claim. “He then proceeded to illegally restrain her by sitting on her torso with his arm underneath her breasts.”

Bridges then identified himself as law enforcement and “repeatedly stated that Mahogany Atkinson was under arrest for assault on a government official.” He “yelled to his significant other to retrieve his firearm, walkie talkie and handcuffs.”

As Xavier tried to pull the state trooper off of his sister, Weber, who is not named in the complaint, struck Xavier in the back of the head with Bridges walkie talkie.

“Xavier Atkinson grabbed the woman’s hair to prevent her from striking him again” and then “escaped to the ATV,” driving to his aunt’s home, where his mother was visiting, according to the complaint.

When Xavier got there, his mother was alarmed by the reckless way he pulled into the yard and the blood on his shirt and face. He was “frantic, speechless,” only able to say his sister’s name and the word “accident.”

Harris, her best friend, and other family members got into a minivan and rushed to the new-home site, where Harris saw her daughter in handcuffs near the ditch. Bridges had his gun drawn, pointed at Mahogany’s torso.

“Don’t fucking move,” Bridges said to them, and they raised their hands in the air. Harris attempted to explain the situation to Bridges, but the trooper “swung and aimed his firearm in the direction of Harris and stated, ‘Shut the fuck up!’” He then used his radio to call for backup.

Harris tried to reason with Weber.

“Shut the fuck up,” Weber said to Harris. “The more you talk, the more problems you will have.”

Mahogany, who has asthma, was having trouble breathing under Bridges’ restraint.

“After several moments of pleading, Bridges finally allowed Harris’s best friend to administer a dose from an inhaler to Mahogany Atkinson,” the claim says.

When multiple law enforcement agencies arrived, Mahogany was placed in the back of a Johnston County Sheriff’s Office patrol car, where she had two panic attacks.

Xavier was taken to the WakeMed children’s emergency room after Johnston County deputies arrived at his aunt’s home, searched it, and detained him in a manner that injured the teen.

When Harris looked at the video of George Floyd’s murder with Xavier, he told her, “Mommy, that’s how they had me.”

“He told me two months later that he couldn’t take the pain,” Harris says. “He had torn ligaments in his elbow and his knee.”

Harris says she intends to file a legal claim against the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office.

“I want to see the cameras,” she said. “My son has been emotionally scarred since that happened. He’s a very angry young Black child right now. I told my mother, ‘My daughter could have been a Sandra Bland.”

Doyle told the INDY that Bridges would not be charged because a witnessdescribed by Mobley as a neighbor in the recording, claimed that Bridges identified himself as a law enforcement officer before the struggle escalated, contrary to the attorneys’ claim.

Bridges was hired by the Highway Patrol in 1998, one year after Mobley. Highway Patrol officials declined comment about the complaint.

“They ought to be ashamed of themselves,” Harris says about the Highway Patrol and the Johnston County deputies. “Honestly, [Bridges] should have gotten charged.”

Follow Durham Reporter Thomasi McDonald on Twitter or send an email to tmcdonald@indyweek.com.

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