in the Court of Appeals 27 September 2017.
by defendant from order entered 4 November 2016 by Judge
William R. Pittman in Johnston County No. 16 CRS 2053
Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Special Deputy Attorney
General Derrick C. Mertz, for the State.
Webster Law Firm, by Walter S. Webster, for
to charging Jesse Santifort with a crime, the State obtained
two separate ex parte orders compelling the
production of his personnel files and educational records.
Santifort was not provided with any notice that these
documents were being sought. He was subsequently indicted on
a charge of involuntary manslaughter. Approximately two
months after his indictment, Santifort filed motions to set
aside the two ex parte orders, which were denied by
the trial court. Because we conclude the two ex
parte orders were void ab initio, we reverse.
and Procedural Background
March 2016, Santifort was employed as a police officer with
the Kenly Police Department. On that date, he became involved
in a vehicle pursuit that had been initiated by deputies
employed by the Wilson County Sheriff's Office.
Alexander Thompson - the driver of the vehicle being pursued
- wrecked his truck in an open field. Shortly after calling
in the wreck, Santifort reported over the radio that he had
deployed his Taser against Thompson. Shortly thereafter,
Santifort requested emergency medical assistance for
Thompson. Paramedics arrived and transported Thompson to
WakeMed Hospital where he died three days later.
March 2016, the State filed an ex parte motion in
Johnston County Superior Court pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat.
§ 160A-168 seeking the production of Santifort's
personnel records from four North Carolina police departments
where he had been employed. On that same day, the Honorable
Ronald L. Stephens entered orders compelling the disclosure
of Santifort's personnel records from all four agencies.
State filed another ex parte motion in Johnston
County Superior Court on 13 June 2016 seeking to obtain
educational records from Johnston County Community College
related to a Basic Law Enforcement Training class attended by
Santifort. The Honorable Thomas H. Lock entered an order that
same day compelling the disclosure of those records.
of the ex parte motions filed by the State contained
accompanying affidavits. Furthermore, neither the State's
motions nor the orders entered by Judges Stephens and Lock
bore a docket number.
September 2016, Santifort was indicted by a grand jury for
involuntary manslaughter. He subsequently learned of the
existence of the orders that had been entered by Judges
Stephens and Lock. On 30 September 2016, Santifort filed in
Johnston County Superior Court - through counsel - notices of
appearance, motions to intervene pursuant to Rule 24 of the
North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure, and motions for
relief under Rule 60(b) seeking to have the ex parte
November 2016, a hearing was held on Santifort's motions
before the Honorable William R. Pittman in Johnston County
Superior Court. The following day, Judge Pittman entered an
order stating, in pertinent part, as follows:
1. Even though relevant authority suggests a special
proceeding as one method of pursuing the kinds of records
sought by the State in this matter in the absence of a civil
or criminal action, the creation and docketing of a criminal
case file pursuant to the indictment gives the defendant
interest and standing in all matters pertaining to the
investigation and prosecution of the matter.
2. The motion to intervene is therefore moot.
3. Granting the relief requested by the defendant in the
motion for relief from prior orders of the Court would
require this Court to overrule the orders of Judges Stephens
and Lock and staying enforcement of orders already complied
4. Judges Stephens and Lock had jurisdiction to enter the
5. The prior orders of Judges Stephens and Lock are not void
6. The prior orders of Judges Stephens and Lock are not the
kind of orders contemplated by Rule 60 from which relief can
7. The Court lacks the authority to overrule these orders
rendered by other Superior Court Judges.
8. Ruling on a motion to suppress the State's use at
trial of any information contained in the produced records is
. . . .
NOW, THEREFORE, the Court orders as ...