UNION COUNTY — Sheriff Eddie Cathey and members of the Union County Sheriff’s Office (UCSO) are facing a complaint from a man arrested in April of 2019, claiming deputies used excessive force when arresting him.
Dustin Vaughn Parrish, 39, of Monroe was arrested on April 1, 2019 at around 4 p.m. and charged with assaulting a law enforcement officer (felony), violation of a domestic violence protection order (misdemeanor), and resist, delay, obstruction (misdemeanor). The arresting officer was J.B. Pressley, according to the arrest record obtained from the sheriff’s office (Officer Pressley was not mentioned as a Defendant in the complaint).
The complaint, filed on July 21, alleges “deputies with the Union County Sheriff’s Office brutally attacked Plaintiff Dustin Parrish during a traffic stop without provocation at a time when Parrish was fully complying with their orders.” It makes six claims; excessive force, battery, assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, substantive due process violation and violation of North Carolina’s Constitution.
The law office representing Parrish provided the Enquirer-Journal with a copy of the reporting officer’s narrative. The reporting officer was T Mills. Their report states they noticed Parrish in a burgundy Kia Rio driven by Teresa Aldridge, who had a protective order against Parrish. When Mills verified that the protective order was still active, they notified other deputies in the area of the Kia’s location on Lancaster Highway in Monroe.
Three deputies including Mills stopped Aldridge’s car on Lathan Road, east of Rocky River Road. According to the narrative, Mills observed Deputies Belk and Helms “actively fighting a male subject on the side of the road.”
Mills described a scene where he tried to handcuff Parrish, but Parrish fought officers; therefore, he hit Parrish “several times on the right side of the head.” Parrish reportedly continued to struggle, so Deputies Mills and Helms stepped aside as Deputy Belk used a taser against Parrish. Next, they used OC spray in Parrish’s face. Parrish still would not comply with the officers, according to the report, so they tased him a second time. Then, Parrish complied and Mills placed Parrish in handcuffs, according to Mills’ narrative.
Mills called for EMS after Parrish had been handcuffed. While being treated, Parrish tried to escape. Mills and Helms chased Parrish and put him on the ground. Parrish complained that he could not breathe. EMS saw Parrish while he was on the ground, per Mills’ narrative.
“Deputy Grant arrived on the scene and placed a spit hood on [Parrish’s] head and a rip hobble was placed around [Parrish’s] legs, due to him continuing to struggle and resist,” Mills’ narrative reads.
Parrish was transported to CHS-Union for evaluation by Deputy Pressley.
Back at Alridge’s Kia Rio, Deputy Grant and K9 Zorro conducted an open air sniff of the vehicle, because Parrish admitted there were drugs in the car. K9 Zorro had a “positive alert to the presence of narcotics.” Deputy J. Funderburk searched the vehicle and discovered a “crystal like substance in the driver’s seat,” according to the narrative. Aldridge was arrested for possession of methamphetamine and was transported to the Union County Jail by Deputy Funderburk.
In Mills’ narrative, Detective K. Moore charged Parrish with four felony counts of assaulting law enforcement, two misdemeanor counts of resist, delay obstruct, a felony count of malicious conduct by prisoner, a misdemeanor count of violation of a domestic violence protection order.
The Enquirer-Journal requested a comment from Sheriff Eddie Cathey on the action the deputies took trying to restrain Parrish. Cathey would not comment on the complaint, and said it’s because the case is active.
Bo Caudill, an attorney and partner at Weaver, Bennett and Bland, wrote in an email to the Enquirer-Journal: “We expect law enforcement officers to act with respect for the laws they are sworn to uphold, including the laws that prohibit the use of excessive force. The conduct involved in this case raises serious questions about the Union County Sheriff’s commitment to safe, responsible law enforcement practices and the investigation and punishment of deputies who cross the line.”
The complaint describes the altercation this way:
“By the time the beating was over, Parrish, who spent most of the incident on his knees with his hands behind his back, was beaten severely, tased twice, and pepper sprayed. The deputies used the blood pouring out of Parrish’s mouth as a pretense to affix a spit guard, exacerbating the pain of the pepper spray. They refused to give him water so that he could flush his eyes. They transported Parrish to a hospital and later to jail, eventually using falsified reports of the altercation to charge him not just with violating a domestic violence protective order and possession of a small amount of methamphetamine, but also with resisting, delaying, or obstructing the officers, and assault inflicting injury on law enforcement officers.”
The complaint states that the magistrate set the bond at an amount that was “well above” what Parrish could afford — $75,000. Parrish spent more than 200 days in jail awaiting trial. During that time, the complaint alleges he was not permitted access to his prescription medications or medical treatment and his condition worsened. The medications and conditions were redacted from the complaint; however it states he developed scarring, severe and chronic depression, anxiety, and fear that currently affect him and are suspected to affect him in the foreseeable future. The complaint states that at one point Parrish became “extremely ill” with a fever of 104. Only then was he transported to a hospital to receive treatment for three days. Upon returning to the jail, staff allowed Parrish to take prescribed medication, according to the complaint.
Segments from dashcam footage recorded the altercation. The complaint alleges that law enforcement during the altercation “intentionally disabled other recording devices that, but for being intentionally disabled, would have recorded the above-described events.”
The Enquirer-Journal obtained dashcam footage from the law offices of Weaver, Bennett and Bland.
The clips show Parrish being sprayed and hit multiple times. One clip shows Parrish’s feet bounded together and at least three deputies placing Parrish into a patrol car. There was a struggle to place Parrish into the patrol car. A clip lasting seven seconds shows Parrish exiting Aldridge’s car. In that short clip, Parrish exits and there is an immediate struggle between him and officers. A deputy put his arm out, Parrish grabbed his elbow and resisted him. Parrish tried to run, but a second deputy tackled him to the ground beside the road.
Another clip shows a deputy deploying a taser, but Parrish is out of the frame.
In November of 2019, Parrish entered a guilty plea. In exchange, he was placed on probation and released from custody, according to the complaint.
This story was updated at 6:05 p.m., Friday, July 31, 2020.