$16 Thousand Judgement Against Highway Patrol

Panel: Excessive Force During E.R. Arrest

0803 Highway Patrol Video

NEW BERN - A state commission ruled a Highway Patrol officer used unreasonable force during an emergency room arrest, leaving a man with long-term injuries.

New Bern resident Richard Bernhardt, 71, contended he was assaulted and put under arrest by Trooper Matthew Cape at Carolina East Medical Center.

The July 17,2007 incident was captured in its entirety by dash cam video.

"He grabbed me, threw me on the back of my car, dislocated my elbow and kneed me in the back of my thigh" Bernhardt said in an interview Friday. "Very justified, is how I feel about the decision."

Cape told an October 2007 Highway Patrol investigation that Bernhardt sped through several red lights and stop signs on the night of the incident. Bernhardt was en route to the hospital, seeking urgent care for his wife with terminal cancer.

Cape stopped Bernhardt at the entrance to the E.R., and told officials he was elbowed in the chest - an act the trooper considered to be aggressive.

Bernhardt denies elbowing the Trooper.

"The guy was just a few inches from me," Bernhardt said. "I must have accidentally brushed against him."

A panel from the North Carolina Industrial Commission agreed with Bernhardt's assessment. The matter was handled by the Commission because individuals cannot sue the Highway Patrol, and the body oversees complaints against state employees.

In the 13 page decision, the Commission wrote Trooper Cape's interpretation of events was "not credible in light of the evidence. [Bernhardt] did not make intentional, forceful contact with Trooper Cape that could be reasonably construed as constituting an assault."

After dash cam video appears to show Cape kneeing the man, Bernhardt spent the night in jail while his wife was left in the hospital.

Bernhardt's arm remained in a sling for several weeks. His wife passed away within the same span of time.

When asked if he was satisfied with the outcome, Bernhardt said the censure of Highway Patrol is more important than any compensation.

"The monetary amount doesn't matter. [The decision] shows they were wrong. And I'm hoping, that the State Highway Patrol recognized that point. And that that officer might change his tune... Be nicer to the people of North Carolina."

Trooper Cape was cleared of all wrongdoing in an October 2007 Highway Patrol internal review of the incident. The state is still able to appeal the Commission's decision.

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