Prosecutors explain why supervisors did not face charges after Cinotti impersonated police officer
NAVASSA, N.C. (WECT) - WECT broke the news this week that Eric Cinotti, the man accused of impersonating a Navassa Police Officer, entered a plea deal in Brunswick County Court. He’s now a convicted felon for making traffic stops and responding to an emergency call without being an certified law enforcement officer.
Since that story aired, WECT has fielded questions from people wondering why Cinotti’s supervisors are not facing charges too, since Cinotti says former Navassa Police Chief Stephen Conrad is the one who issued him a badge, patrol vehicle, and other police equipment.
“Acting Chief Conrad is a co-conspirator at the very least. If they want to charge me with a felony as they did, then in order for me to do that, I needed somebody to provide me that equipment. It’s very clear. It’s on video. People saw him teaching me how to use the lights,” Cinotti told WECT of how baffled he is about his arrest after volunteering as a detective for the town.
“I believed as a reasonable person — a man with the title of chief or acting chief, and I met him in City all in uniform. He has apparent authority of a chief. Everybody knows what a chief can do, basically, and in that, he gave me the position of auxiliary detective,” Cinotti added. He said North Carolina General Statute 160A-283 allows police chiefs to add auxiliary police officers to the force.
Conrad resigned from his job right before news broke that Cinotti had been impersonating a police officer on his watch. But to hold Conrad or other town officials criminally responsible for Cinotti’s actions, prosecutors would have to prove intent that they knew Cinotti was not qualified to be an officer and intentionally placed him in that role anyway.
Navassa officials claimed that Cinotti convinced them his background with military police and his training in basic law enforcement were enough for him to work as a volunteer. Prosecutors say they gave him a badge and a patrol car in good faith, assuming that was true.
Court documents indicate Cinotti has a history of claiming to hold titles and credentials he didn’t actually earn. Authorities say he’s “posed as a fireman, a military officer, an attorney, and a federal judge.”
Cinotti and his mother made the same claims to WECT. They showed us paperwork that they say documents the positions he’s held over the years, but they would not let us make copies to help us independently verify that the documents were legitimate.
While they may not be facing criminal charges like Cinotti, prosecutors say it was sloppy of officials with the Town of Navassa not to verify his law enforcement credentials.
“My concerns with the town of Navassa Police Department went beyond their handling of the Cinotti matter. I had serious reservations regarding the structure and leadership of the police department. I am pleased that the town has hired an experienced leader in Chief Darryll Decotis and he appears to be implementing necessary changes. My hope is that town officials will give Chief Decotis and the department the autonomy and resources they need and deserve. The District Attorney’s Office will continue to assist the police department in furtherance of their job to serve and protect the citizens of Navassa,” Brunswick County District Attorney Jon David told WECT.
When WECT previously attempted to reach former Chief Conrad for comment, he hung up after realizing he was speaking to a reporter. Navassa Mayor Eulis Willis has been reluctant to talk, and has referred us to the town administrator when asked for details about how Cinotti got a badge.
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