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Victim speaks out after cop who propositioned her for sex enters plea deal

Updated: May. 6, 2021 at 4:51 PM EDT
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WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, N.C. (WECT) - It was a case that came as a shock to many across the Cape Fear region. A well-known police lieutenant and youth football coach, criminally charged following an investigation by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI). The accusation: that Shaun Appler offered a woman a “free pass” to get out of trouble with Wrightsville Beach Police, in exchange for nude photos or sex.

On Thursday, Appler entered an Alford plea in New Hanover County court, a guilty plea in which a defendant maintains their innocence but admits that the prosecution’s evidence would likely result in a guilty verdict if brought to trial. He will now have two convictions for obstruction of justice on his criminal record, and agreed that he would never wear a badge again in North Carolina.

The victim in the case, 26-year-old Greyson Leyrer, declined to comment immediately after Appler’s indictment for fear it would jeopardize the case, but she is sharing her story now the plea deal is over. She grew up on Wrightsville Beach, and has known Appler since she was about 13. She said she couldn’t believe it when he approached her in 2019 with a lewd offer for a get-out-of-jail-free card.

She’d recently had a heated exchange with another officer on Wrightsville Beach, and says Appler intervened to diffuse the situation. Leyrer says she ran into Appler a short time later when he was off duty at a beach bar, and that’s when he propositioned her.

“He said, ‘Well, you know, if that would happen again, here’s the way that you could get out of trouble on the beach.’ Which she says was sending naked pictures... He said, ’If you send me five nudes, I’ll send you three free passes to get out of trouble, and if you have sex with me once I’ll give you a free pass to get out of something big,’” Leyrer recalled of the conversation.

Leyrer said she was extremely uncomfortable because of the inappropriate nature of the conversation, her friendship with Appler’s wife and child, and the significant age difference between them. Appler was 48 at the time he was criminally charged in August 2020, and Leyrer said she thought of him as a father figure. Leyrer said she left the bar to avoid further interaction, but Appler continued to text her.

“It was 3:20 in the morning when he sent a picture of his penis with a question mark,” Leyrer said. “I remember the next morning thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s gonna wake up and be like, ‘What have I done?’ Just humiliated. And he texted me again the next day and said something like, ‘Did you forget about me or something?’ I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, he wasn’t just drunk and being stupid. He’s serious about this.’”

Leyrer said she wasn’t sure what to do. She said she wanted to report him, but didn’t want to embarrass his family in such a small town if the allegations were to become public. She also worried that if she went to the Wrightsville Beach Police Department to report one of their senior officers, nothing would happen, or worse, she’d be retaliated against. She let the situation go for several months, until she said she ran into Appler, and had the opportunity to confront him directly about how uncomfortable the situation made her. Leyrer said Appler apologized profusely, and she thought that would be the end of it.

But a couple of months later, Leyrer said Appler propositioned her again.

“He repeated the deal, and he was like, ‘Five nudes and I’ll get you out of trouble.’ And I just got really mad at that point and I said, ‘Yeah I’m still not doing that,’” Leyrer recalled. “It got me thinking that if he’s going to be this persistent about it, it’s probably worked for him somewhere along the line. I just started thinking about how many girls could probably fall into that deal a lot easier than I would.”

Leyrer knew someone at the New Hanover County District Attorney’s Office and decided to mention the situation to them. The court employee offered to pursue the case and Leyrer accepted. An SBI investigation began on Nov. 13, 2019, at the request of District Attorney Ben David. On Sept. 2, several days after being indicted by the grand jury, Appler turned himself in on felony bribery charges. He’d resigned from the force earlier that year.

According to Woody White, Appler’s attorney, Appler served the citizens of Wrightsville Beach for close to 20 years. In court Thursday, White said Appler had become disillusioned with his career in law enforcement, and turned to alcohol to cope. White said Appler was ashamed of what he did, but did not remember all of it. Through his attorney, Appler apologized to Leyrer and his own family for his behavior. He has now moved out of state.

Wrightsville Beach Police Chief David Squires released the following statement Sept. 3, just after Appler was charged:

Upon hearing the news of former Sergeant Appler’s arrest, I want to take a moment to share these thoughts. The Wrightsville Beach Police Department has every confidence in the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), and the criminal justice system. We appreciate and respect the role of the media in bringing matters of public concern to the public’s attention. Be assured that the members of the Wrightsville Beach Police Department will continue to work tirelessly to promote the cause of justice, provide service to the victims of crime, and to hold ourselves accountable in all regards to the highest standards.

Leyrer hopes that by telling her story, she will give others the courage to come forward if they encountered a similar situation with Appler, or any other officer of the law who tried to abuse their authority.

“I don’t think he’s someone who deserves to have any power over other people,” Leyrer said of her decision to press charges, and speak publicly about what happened to her.

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